When Jones County Community College outside linebacker/defensive end Marques Ford announced last Tuesday his intentions to play for East Carolina in 2017, a rare sort of excitement spread through the Pirate Nation.
And with good reason.
Ford not only plays a position where ECU could use some immediate help next season, he’s also one of the highest ranked defenders ever secured by the Pirates.
As a senior at East Bay High School in Gibsonton, FL, in 2014, Ford was a consensus four-star recruit and rated among the top 30 defensive end recruits in the nation. The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder received more than 40 scholarship offers from Football Bowl Subdivision schools that year before a twist of fate landed him at Jones County this season.
Ford has made the most of his one and only season in the junior college ranks, where his performance earned him another round of scholarship offers from the likes of California, Louisville, Mississippi, Mississippi State and West Virginia. But the ECU won out over those schools and others after Ford made an official visit to campus on the weekend of October 28.
East Bay High School coach Frank LaRosa said his former star won’t just be bringing some elite talent to Greenville.
“I think they are getting someone whose work ethic and character will equal his athletic talent,” LaRosa said. “He was a two-time team captain for me and didn’t miss a single workout or practice in four years. He is absolutely committed to the craft and to making his team better.”
LaRosa is the perfect person to make such an assessment since he witnessed first-hand Ford’s development from the eighth grade forward.
The son of Air Force parents, Ford lived in a variety of places, including the states of New Jersey and Nebraska, the country of Italy and the city of Key West, Florida before moving to Gibsonton as a seventh grader. Located just South of Tampa, Gibsonton was once known more for the many carnival and circus performers who called the area home than it was for high school football.
But Ford began to help change that when he started showing up for offseason workouts between his eighth- and ninth-grade years. He spent a year on the junior varsity before earning a starting job on the varsity defense as a sophomore. Ford flashed his potential by making 59 tackles, five tackles for loss and two quarterback sacks.
It was in the middle of that sophomore year that LaRosa began receiving college inquiries about Ford. One in particular would provide even more incentive for Ford to improve.
“About halfway through his sophomore season he was starting on the defensive line, and we received a call from Duke about recruiting him,” LaRosa said. “We thought we had something special and it was evident someone else (by Duke calling) thought the same thing.
“That just fueled him more. He’s not one that craved attention or needed that pat on the back. But it was refreshing to see this millennial take the attention and run with it the other way. It motivated and fired him up even more.”
Ford became a dominant defender the following year, piling up 67 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. That’s when the scholarship offers began to flood in from schools such as Arkansas, Clemson, Miami, Mississippi, Nebraska, Tennessee, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin among others.
A strange recruiting odyssey began at that point for Ford, who first made a verbal commitment to play for Tennessee in July before his senior season at East Bay. According to comments by LaRosa in published reports at the time, the Volunteers suddenly pulled their scholarship offer from Ford two weeks before national signing day in February 2015 because they no longer had room in the class for him.
With most of the other teams that had previously offered him already had full classes as well, Rutgers stepped in at the last minute to sign Ford. But when the head coach who signed Ford for the Scarlet Knights was fired after the 2015 season, he was on the move again, announcing intentions to transfer in December.
Ford wasn’t originally considering junior college football but was convinced by Jones County coach Steve Buckley that it might be a good option.
And it has been. Ford enjoyed a stellar freshman year with the Bobcats with 17 tackles, 9.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss.
LaRosa said Ford has great potential as a pass rusher at East Carolina.
“He is explosive and athletic,” LaRosa said. “Marques has that fast twitch and is an excellent pass rusher.
“He is very strong for a kid, but when you look at him he’s still long and lean. He just turned 18. He’s a young kid. He’s a year ahead of where he should be. So, physically in the next couple of years you’re really going to start seeing how impressive he can be.”
Because of the ups-and-downs Ford experienced to get there, LaRosa believes he’ll be extra motivated upon his arrival in Greenville.
“I think East Carolina is going to get a very motivated, very driven young man,” he said. “Once he starts to have some success there, I think that will really light the flame.”
Ford will have three years of eligibility remaining at East Carolina.