RECRUITING: Sarasota star has Gators in top three

Sarasota running back Mike Ford has a thousand questions for Florida Coach Urban Meyer. The state's rushing champion is eager to speak with the soon-to-be Fiesta Bowl champion and leader of the Gators.

"I have a thousand questions that I'd like to ask Coach Meyer," Mike Ford stated. "Hopefully I'll be able to do that. Sometimes, you talk to a coach and all of the questions that you really want to ask, come to you later. My first question to Coach Meyer would be about the academics. That's the most important thing anyway, and my Mom is always asks about too. I also want to know about the offensive set up, but I'm a big back and I can adjust to any system"

The dismissal of Coach Ron Zook left Ford unsure if he fit into the plans of the new staff. He is seemingly very happy that Meyer and the Gators are interested in him.

"Well, Ron Zook, he showed interest in the spring of my junior year," said Ford. "I've received letters and talked to Coach (Joe) Wickline. He was the one recruiting me. But, since the new coach (Meyer) was hired, I was concerned that they weren't going to show as much interest. I haven't spoken to him, yet. I know that he's been back and forth. He's sent me a lot of letters though. I've gotten a lot of mail from him, telling me 'Good Luck', 'Merry Christmas', and 'We hope that you'll be a Gator.' "

Like Meyer, Ford, too, has been busy. Ten days ago, Ford earned MVP honors as he ran for 113 yards and two touchdowns leading the Sarasota County All-Stars to a 24-14 victory over the Manatee County All-Stars. His second run of the night was beautiful as he shook off several would be defenders, cutting back twice for a 52-yard touchdown gallop.

Ford (6-2, 205) is one of the best backs to ever don a high school uniform in the Sarasota area. He finished with 2,836 yards and scored 37 touchdowns. He averaged eight yards per carry and ran for 200 yards or more in 10 consecutive games for the Sailors. Only former Frostproof running back Travis Henry has run for more consecutive 20-plus games in a season than Mike Ford.

"I don't really have a certain style," Ford said. "Emmitt Smith is my favorite running back, but I really run like several different backs. I have some power like Greg Jones. I move and can cut like Cadillac Williams. I also run like Ronnie Brown. I used to run a 4.3 forty, but I've gained some weight (the past year), so I'm definitely a 4.4 guy now."

I asked if he added a little more recently and he joked, ""I have to work off some of that Christmas dinner. I have to get back out there and work to get my speed back."

He ran for over 1,000 yards a season in both his sophomore and junior years while enrolled at nearby Riverview High School. While at Riverview, he had the opportunity to accompany one of the Rams assistants to a Florida game for an unofficial visit of sorts. The trip was to see a former Riverview All-American.

"I visited Gainesville my sophomore year for a game with Coach A (Riverview assistant coach Jim Anderson)," Ford recalled. "We went over to Todd Johnson's house and hung out talking to everybody for a little bit. Todd is just a good person. You know? Everywhere we went Todd was like a celebrity, so you had all kinds of people calling his name. People know him for the good person that he is, not just an athlete, you know. We walked around and saw the campus. He told me how it was and said it was a good program with good academics. It was really nice"

Ford admitted that the trip to Gainesville sparked an interest in the Florida program and the beautiful campus. However, he declined to name a true leader at this point.

"The Gators are in my top three," he said. "I like Auburn, South Carolina, and Florida. Those are the main ones that I've narrowed my choices down to. I like Coach (Tommy) Tuberville. Auburn sent me my first piece of mail when I was in the tenth grade. I've spoken to Coach (Steve) Spurrier. He said that he's going to change the whole game plan around up there. He has a passion for throwing the ball, but he also said that he has a passion to run the football. He said that if I noticed, he has a lot of running backs in the NFL. I'm visiting South Carolina on the 14th, Auburn on the 21st, and Michigan State on the 28th. "

Ford was told that he'll suit up for the Florida/Georgia All-Star game. He didn't tip his hand as to when he'll make a decision, but if Meyer addresses his questions as expected, don't be surprised to see the Gators take the lead for his services.

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