NFL Bound


When he didn’t hear his name called during the NFL Draft, Poona Ford was mad “for like 30 minutes.” Then it was time to get back to work.

Ford was prepared for the possibility that no one would pick him during the seven-round draft. After all, he’s heard for years all the reasons why he shouldn’t be able to excel.

He was too slow to play linebacker but too short to play on the defensive line. He would be a nice high school player, but never flourish in college. Maybe at a small school, but not a Power Five program. He might make it as a role player for a big-time program, but never be a starter. Defensive lineman of the year? Well, yeah, but it’s the Big 12, and they don’t really even play defense. A standout at the Shrine Game, sure, but he’ll be overmatched at the Senior Bowl. OK, maybe he had a good week, but that height will hold him back in the NFL.

Poona Ford2The doubts don’t even sting anymore. They fuel him.

“It just gives me more of a drive,” Ford says. “When I’m on that field, it pushes me to do everything better.”

Sure, he was a little unhappy that teams hungry for help on the defensive line passed him over during the draft, but Ford knew he would get a chance to prove himself — just like he has at every level. By the seventh round, he was discussing a deal with the Seattle Seahawks, who signed him as an undrafted free agent shortly after the draft concluded. By all accounts, it’s a perfect landing spot with a franchise that needs a run-stopper and has a history of taking chances on players who don’t fit the NFL’s prototypical molds.

“We kind of had a feeling that’s where he was going to end up,” said Hilton Head Island High School coach B.J. Payne. “He loves the area, loves the coaching staff. It’s a great fit for him scheme-wise. It all adds up.”

The burning question centers on Ford’s height — he’s just a hair under 6 feet — but Payne and other believers have pointed out that Ford’s 33-inch arms and 80-inch wingspan are more typical of someone who is at least 6 feet 4 inches, and his lower center of gravity is an asset in the trenches, where the low man usually wins.

Then there’s the work ethic that helped Ford transform from a project — Payne moved him from linebacker to a three-technique defensive tackle when he arrived at Hilton Head High ahead of Ford’s junior year — into one of the most dominant defensive linemen in college football.

Poona Ford3“You hear stories, but there’s no joke in it,” Payne said. “We literally used to have to pull him out of practice because our No. 1 offensive line could not block him. There is no half-speed for him. It’s either walk-through or full-go.”

Payne believes Ford will make the Seahawks’ 53-man roster — usually an uphill climb for an undrafted free agent — and have a long career in the NFL. And he’s not alone.

“He’s going to be a 10-year starter in that league,” Texas coach Tom Herman told the Brock & Salk radio show on 710 ESPN Seattle. “I’ve been doing this a long time … there’s three defensive tackles in my 20 years of coaching that I’ve seen that I would say have elite, elite, elite work ethic, determination and drive, play after play after play. … He’s on that list.”

Before Payne took over the Hilton Head High program, Ford had all but given up on his dream of playing college football and was making plans to enlist in the military. He trusted his new coach to teach him to play a new position, and it led him to a celebrated career at Texas.

On the eve of the draft, Payne reminded his protege that even if Ford wasn’t drafted, it wouldn’t be the end of the line and that nothing in his football career had come easy. Ford has exceeded expectations at every step of his career, and he doesn’t plan to stop now.

“I can’t hold myself back,” Ford said. “I’ll go as far as I push myself.”