To say that Luke Ford’s winter and spring has been exciting would be an understatement.
The 6-foot-7, 250-pound Carterville junior had just one football scholarship offer in early January. But after turning heads at the U.S. Army National Combine in San Antonio, Ford blew up.
In mid-March, Ford verbally committed to play for Bret Bielema at the University of Arkansas, which was one of his 21 accepted scholarship offers.
“We met the coaches that night for dinner and talked with them, and I loved the coaches,” Ford said. “The next day it just blew me away. The SEC facilities were just out of this world. Coach Bielema was such a cool dude and a real guy. We got along really great.”
Although Ford had offers from plenty of the big boys, including Alabama, Florida and Georgia, the opportunity to play for a university that consistently puts its tight ends in the NFL was too good pass up.
“I knew it was the right fit for me, especially at the tight end position,” Ford said. “Me being kind of selfish, they’re throwing to the tight ends for 3,000 yards, and the next closest team was I think like 1,000 yards. I want to try to make an impact my freshman year, and I think they think I can do that. All of those factors combined is why I wanted to go there.”
The fact that he won’t lose his five-year scholarship if he gets injured before he even gets to Fayetteville was another key factor in Ford’s decision.
“It takes all the pressure off of me,” Ford said. “For one, with my commitment, I could get hurt in any sport, and I would still have my full ride scholarship. That was a big thing for me. I could be kicking a can down the street and break my leg, and I’ve still got a full ride. I wake up every morning and know I made the right decision. It is ‘Tight End U’, that’s definitely how I see it.”
For a couple of months, Ford’s phone wouldn’t stop ringing. Coaches from Power Five schools were all over the Carterville junior. It was hectic to say the least.
“It was overwhelming, but I’m humbled by it and extremely blessed,” Ford said. “It was my dream and probably just every kid’s dream, watching college football my freshman year and thinking I wanted to go out there and do that. I’m just going to keep working hard. Thankfully, I have my mom, my dad and my brother to back me up.”
Ford’s older brother, Noah, plays football for Nick Hill at SIU, which was the first school to offer a scholarship. Arkansas was the second university to do the same.
“The Arkansas assistant coaches came to a basketball practice, and they called me that night on their way home and gave me the offer,” Ford said. “The next day, I face timed their whole coaching staff, and I was super stoked. They basically went out on a limb for me because I only had the one offer at the time. Having an SEC school offer me was pretty crazy.”
Even though Ford had already committed to be a Razorback, LSU offered him a scholarship earlier this month. Arkansas being the first Power Five school to offer made a difference as well.
“They said they were debating on whether to give me an offer or not,” Ford said of the Arkansas coaching staff. “They said I was good enough to get the offer, but they wanted me to be a secret. But they said they thought I was going to blow up either way.”
There were plenty of memorable moments for Ford during the recruiting process, including a phone call from Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who has a handful of national championships on his resume.
“We had about a 20-minute conversation, and he talked about how they should have been throwing more to their tight ends,” Ford recalled. “But with their past record of not throwing to the tight ends much, I couldn’t go there.”
The University of Illinois was very high on Ford’s list of schools he wanted to play for. A visit from former Chicago Bears head coach and current Illini coach, Lovie Smith, was a highlight for Ford.
“He came to school and talked to me and my coaches,” Ford said. “He just kind of hung out for a day at Carterville, and it was pretty sweet. He’s an awesome guy and genuine and humble. Basically, any trait you can think of that’s good would describe him. I liked him a lot.”
Barring something unforeseen happening, Ford is all in with Arkansas.
“Michigan and Ohio State, along with about 10 other schools, are coming down to my high school this spring,” Ford said. “But right now, I’m fully committed to Arkansas unless coaches change or any NCAA sanctions happen.”
Ford will show what’s he got at The Opening Finals, which is held at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, this summer. The top 166 football players in the country get to showcase their skills at this prestigious event.
“I’m still kind of in shock, and it all happened so quick,” Ford said. “But I’m really excited and happy and thankful for it. I’m truly blessed.”