I’m really excited. Practicing all offseason with all of my best friends, finally getting an opportunity to play out there with them, it’s special. —Ben Ford
SALT LAKE CITY — East senior quarterback Ben Ford can’t keep the smile from forming across his face when asked what it means to him to have a shot at leading the Leopards to the 6A state title this Friday against the Bingham Miners.
Sure, this’ll be the third time Ford will be on an East team that will play in the final game of the season for all the marbles, but it’s the first chance he’ll get at leading the Leopards after that opportunity was taken from him a year ago.
Ford has been playing football pretty much ever since he could walk, and he has lined up just about everywhere on the field. But, as a sophomore at East, he played very sparingly, and then didn’t win the quarterback job in camp as a junior for the defending 4A champions, so he began playing defensive back.
But, by Week 2, the Leopards decided to make a change at signal caller, and Ford was the guy.
Over the next 11 games, Ford marshaled an attack that scored 515 points and beat all 11 opponents by an average of 29.7 points per contest. Things were cruising right along for Ford to lead East to its second straight title.
Like many of the Leopards’ games before it in 2016, the semifinal matchup against Maple Mountain at Rice-Eccles Stadium had turned into a rout. Already up 57-7 just inside nine minutes remaining in the third quarter, East was making its way toward the end zone again when Ford was brought down on a pitch to running back Charlie Vincent.
Unlike so many plays before, Ford couldn’t get up this time as he suffered what was diagnosed as a dislocated right elbow.
“It was the worst,” he recalled earlier this week. “I had all of my boys around me who were like, ‘Get up, Ben. Get up, Ben.’ Yeah, it hurt, but just the emotional pain, the heartbreak, it was devastating.”
Although Ford’s spirits were lifted when the team came to visit him in the hospital after the game was over, he was still disappointed to not get the chance to start in the championship game, although he was well enough to take a few knees on the game’s final possession with his teammates wrapping him in hugs between snaps.
The Leopards beat Springville, 48-20.
While noting Ford was in full support of his replacement, Nic Harris, Leopards head coach Brandon Matich said it “was hurtful for him” to not be able to really play.
The ensuing months brought a great deal of pain to Ford as he rehabbed, but he was motivated by the desire to get back to the championship game once again. On the season, he has compiled 1,379 yards of total offense with 16 touchdowns, while cementing his role as a crucial team leader.
“These boys from different walks of life, regardless of where you come from socioeconomically, demographically, Ben has the ability to, without trying, be a leader to these young men, and they will follow him to hell and back,” Matich said. “He’s really the quintessential leader, which is what makes him such a good fit for our offense and at quarterback on our team.”
And as the championship game draws near, the smile won’t come off Ford’s face.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “Practicing all offseason with all of my best friends, finally getting an opportunity to play out there with them, it’s special.”
And what would it mean to win it all?
“It would mean everything,” he said. “It would be everything I’ve worked for my entire life. I’ve been playing football since I could walk. It would mean everything.”