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Leaner, quicker Chris Ford has high hopes for UB Bulls defense

Chris Ford is the strong man in the middle of the University at Buffalo defense.

The junior defensive tackle from Ohio is a legitimate 315-pounder, with no extra effort needed at the training table. He’s one of the strongest players on the team, able to do 27 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press.

He’s also coming off a solid first season as a starter on the UB defensive line.

UB has realistic hopes of fielding a defense that ranks in the upper half of the Mid-American Conference this fall. Ford, the only 300-pounder on the UB D-line, has the elite size to make it happen.

“I think he can put himself in the top half or third of interior defensive linemen in our conference,” said UB coach Lance Leipold. “I think he has those abilities.”

“I couldn’t be more pleased by what he’s been able to do in his conditioning and development,” Leipold said. “I think he’s one of the more unsung guys that we had play consistent football for us last year.”

Ford played 37 defensive snaps a game as last season, 50 percent of the downs and fourth most on a line that rotated 10 guys. He plays nose tackle, usually lining up over the inside shoulder of a guard, between the guard and the center.

It’s a dirty-work job, because he’s in position to get double-teamed on a lot of plays. He’s not going to rack up a lot of statistics. Nevertheless, he still was second among UB defensive linemen and 10th on the team in tackles with 27, and he had three tackles for loss.

“Last season when I see how many tackles Nick Gilbo and Brandon Berrry have, it makes me feel good,” Ford said, referring to linebackers who were the top two UB tacklers last season. “Yes, stats are nice. But I like it. I’m a team player. If I’m taking on two guys and they’re getting sacks or tackles for loss, that’s perfect for me because that’s what a nose guard should do.”

Last season was a big step forward for Ford and the culmination of three years of development in the UB system. UB needs his game to take another step forward this year.

A native of Medina, Ohio, Ford impressed UB coaches in 2012 with his play at the Ohio State summer camp. He made a visit to UB the next week and accepted a Bulls scholarship offer. (He also had drawn strong interest from Toledo.) Neither Ford nor UB realized he had torn an anterior cruciate ligament in his knee at the Ohio State camp.

“I didn’t know I tore it, so I was still running on it and training on it,” Ford said. “I was doing all this stuff. I thought it was just sore. I told my mom. We went to the hospital, and the doctor said I had a torn ACL and a cracked meniscus.”

Ford missed his entire senior high school season. Former UB coach Jeff Quinn honored the scholarship offer.

“I’m blessed they honored it because this is my favorite thing to do, being with my teammates running around and having fun,” Ford said. “I had a lot of people tell me you’re not going to be able to do it. An ACL tear is a different type of injury. It’s a long recovery. I forgot how to really run and jump and land. It was one of the toughest things I’ve had to overcome.”

Ford spent his first two years at UB re-shaping his body. He always was strong. As a high schooler at a summer camp in Massillon, Ohio, he lifted 185 pounds about 30 times to win the camp’s “underclassman strong-man competition.” But he has lost about 10 pounds since arriving at UB and made his 6-foot-2 frame a lot leaner. That has improved his ability to chase plays down the line of scrimmage better.

“I feel I’m in 10 times better shape than last year,” Ford said. “I’m not tired at all in practices. I feel I can go all day. Right now they want me to be a little bit heavier this year because my movement has gotten better and I’m in better shape.”

Ford credits defensive line coach Tim Edwards and teammates Perisse and Brandon Crawford with helping his technique.

“I’ve learned how to use my strength from the weight room on the field, which allows me to get knock-back on the O-linemen,” Ford said. “Watching film and seeing where I was last spring, I’m getting more knock-back, better push on the D-line. That’s something I wasn’t doing last spring ball. I was getting knocked down, I was getting washed. That happened some in the season, too.”

Leipold said he considered shifting Ford to offensive line last offseason due to a need for depth there. He’s glad he didn’t.

“Chris is very articulate and very perceptive of what’s going on in our program,” Leipold said. “I don’t know if he’s ever going to be a vocal leader, but I know he continues to gain respect from everyone in the quiet way he goes about his business.”

email: mgaughan@buffnews.com