A defensive end weighing 175 pounds just before his junior season is unlikely to get much attention from recruiters, but when he develops into a 6-3, 205 pass-rushing specialist with 4.46 speed things can change quite a bit.
"When he was a freshman he was just 150-some odd pounds, still growing but could still run like everything," says St. Clair County head coach Charlie Boren. "That's the thing that has really puzzled some people is, ‘Where did this kid come from? Where did he come from?'
"This time last year he was about 175 pounds. We knew he was a great high school defensive player, but I didn't know what level in college because of what size he was going to be. Therefore he's been under the radar just a bit.
"Over the past 12 to 15 months he's begun to mature," Boren continues. "He's begun to fill out and the next thing you know he's a legit SEC prospect and it's caught some people off guard. I know in the last five days talking to other coaches around the Southeast, very, very quickly he's popped up on the radar. From Clemson to Mississippi State to people that have just found out about him the last three or four months, the interest has really swelled on him.
"There have been all sorts of schools," he adds. "Most of the SEC schools have been in. I know he had several offers. Clemson has gotten in late. Coach (Dabo) Sweeney, I've known for a long time, they've had a tremendous amount of interest in him. Troy has offered him, South Alabama, Mississippi State. The usual suspects from this part of the country have been in."
Ford had 13 sacks as a junior, hit the weights in the offseason, continued to get faster and caught the eye of the Auburn coaches at a two-day camp on June 14th and 15th. He ran a 4.46 and was difficult to block in the one-on-ones, which led to a scholarship offer from ends coach Terry Price, who was also Ford's recruiter from Auburn.
Dee Ford prepares for a one-on-on drill at a summer camp.
"Dee has understood for a long time that his success and the success for him at the next level is going to come through the weight room, and he's taking it extremely seriously," Boren notes. "In Auburn he had just come off a stomach virus and he was down to 195 or so. He's back to 205 or 206. That comes from being in the weight room.
"At that size he bench presses around 295, and he power cleans around 290. He's just got a tremendous work ethic inside the weight room. That's a great part of the reason as to where he is right now."
Boren adds that Ford has the body frame to keep growing for a couple more years.
"He has a stepbrother who was actually our fullback last year who just signed with Alabama A&M this year," Boren says. "He'll go 230 or 240. Talking with coaches and everything they all project that Dee could go 230 or 240 and play there without losing anything fairly easy. I think he's still growing, he's getting taller and you can physically see it from six months ago to now that he's definitely still growing.
"You look at his hips and his shoulders and you can see that there's great room for him to continue to grow and put on weight and muscle," the coach adds. "He's the type of athlete you're looking for there."
Not too long ago Boren was unsure what level prospect Ford would grow into, now he's receiving lofty comparisons to one of the Tigers' impact players the last four years.
"He's an outstanding player and he's very athletic," Boren says of his Ford's style. "We've been here (St. Clair County) two years. We got here his sophomore year. He was actually a defensive back for us at that time. This will be our third year coming up this year that I've had him. He's 6-3 1/2, 6-4, somewhere in there. He's extremely athletic with tremendous speed and quickness off the football from that defensive end spot for us.
"More so than just his speed, I think it's just the quickness," he adds of Ford's strengths. "When he comes off that left side at the defensive end position, the speed up the field and the ability to change directions on an offensive lineman is very impressive. That's the thing we noticed at a combine in Tuscaloosa and down at Auburn as well. Of course, these are set up as one-on-one type of things, but he was up and by some of those offensive tackles before some of them could even get out of their stance. That's going to be his biggest quality. Talking to some of the coaches at Auburn as far as a comparison, Quentin Groves is the first person that comes to mind coming out of high school.
"From a pass-rushing standpoint he's pretty good right there. We'd like to see him play with his hands just a little bit better and be a little more aggressive against the run. I think he's always got room to improve there, but a lot of these coaches that looked at him loved the way he played off the blocks with his hands. I think if he goes against that style of offense a little bit more then that's going to improve. That's something he'll have to work on, especially with his size a little early."