Jerome Ford has one simple request, and it has nothing to do with how many touches the Cincinnati running back will receive in Friday’s College Football Playoff semifinal when he faces his old school.
“I’m thankful for everything coach [Nick] Saban had done for me, and that opportunity to play at Alabama,” Ford said over Zoom on Tuesday. “But I’m a Bearcat and I would kind of appreciate it if people stopped calling me ‘The Alabama transfer.’ I’m a Cincinnati Bearcat.”
Good luck with that.
Ford, who enjoyed a breakout 1,242-yard, 20-touchdown season for the Cinderella Bearcats, represents one of the Cotton Bowl’s big storylines: The former Crimson Tide running back facing his former school. In a recent virtual press conference, Ford was besieged with Alabama questions.
Why did you leave? Do you have anything to prove? What does it mean to face the Crimson Tide?
“There’s nobody or nothing the team that we are playing could do to possibly add any motivation,” the junior from Tampa, Fla., said. “I feel like I’m very intrinsically motivated, and everything I have comes from inside. I’m already motivated to play.”
His Alabama career started strong, with a start in the 2019 opener against Duke. Ford ran for 64 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, as he filled in for benched running backs Najee Harris and Brian Robinson. It would be the high point of his two seasons in Tuscaloosa. He was otherwise stuck to the bench, seeing only mop-up duty, behind Harris and Robinson. After two seasons, he moved on.
But his lack of playing time didn’t impact his practice habits. One-time teammates Jordan Battle and Phidarian Mathis never recalled Ford complaining or showing any frustration. He worked and ran hard, qualities that have led to his breakout season for Cincinnati. Ford was an All-AAC first-team selection and the Most Outstanding Player of the league’s championship game.
“We thought Jerome was an outstanding player when he was with us,” Saban said. “He’s got great speed. He’s physical. He makes people miss. He can run with power, and he’s had a fantastic year.
“And I’m really happy that things have worked out well for him where he can create value for himself in terms of the goals and aspirations that he had. And he’ll certainly be a challenge for us in terms of our defense being able to stop their offense.”
Ford never imagined being in this position when he transferred to Cincinnati. He just wanted to contribute to winning games, and possibly a conference championship.
“I was just grateful to have that opportunity,” Ford said. He added: “Just get my foot in the door.”
Now he’s one win away from playing for a national title. His old school is the only thing standing in his way. A big game, and maybe he will shed the label of “the Alabama transfer.”