Conditioning Pays Off For Running Back Ford

Last year, the Illini football team used a "running back by committee." That may continue to occur this fall as four players are all competing for playing time. But freshman Jason Ford began to assert himself late in the year, and he is now in better shape and has the experience to get an abundance of carries.

Illinois running back Jason Ford gained 294 yards in 81 attempts last fall as a rookie, with a high of 172 yards against Indiana. With explosive leaping ability, Ford was called upon in goal line situations and scored 8 touchdowns overall. He likes the look of the running backs this year.

"We are all kind of the same running back. We all have decent speed, and we all are good blockers. We've just got some different sizes. I really like what I'm seeing so far. I think we're going to be pretty good this year."

Ford and Mikel Leshoure are upcoming sophomores who are looking good this spring. Senior Daniel Dufrene just returned to practice after suffering a hamstring pull the first day. And Troy Pollard was exciting until he tweaked his knee.

"We're doing pretty well," Ford said. "The 6:00am's got everyone in really good shape. We've got some injuries, but we'll be good the rest of spring ball."

Jason appears quicker and more flexible this spring. He knows why.

"I'm in better shape. I weigh about 222. I want to play at about 215 to 220."

The conditioning is providing obvious benefits.

"Right now I feel real good. Last year after about 3 or 4 plays I would feel tired, but now I can go through the whole practice in pretty good shape."

Last fall, Ford found the going tough once other teams began paying more attention to him. He is determined not to let that happen again.

"I think teams started keying in on me after I had big games. I hope to open it back up this year. They tried to close the defense more on me."

A running back is only as good as the offensive linemen ahead of him. The Belleville Althoff graduate says he has some quality people leading interference for him.

"We got some new guys coming in, but they're pretty good. The new guys played good last year. Corey Lewis and a couple other freshmen stepped in and did well with the line. Jon Asamoah started last year, and Eric Block moved to center. Both of them are pretty good linemen."

New offensive coordinator Mike Schultz likes to establish the running game, and Jason is pleased about that. But he also likes the way Schultz uses his backs in the passing game.

"This year Coach Schultz has put a lot of running backs on the outside. I hope to get a few receptions out there. I played a little receiver in high school, and I hope to open it up a bit out there. Coach Schultz runs different catching drills, and I think I do well with that."

Jason Ford puts team ahead of self. He believes the Illini have the makings of a top team.

"I'm expecting big things. Our offense is pretty good, and our defense will be real good. Personally, I just want to do the best I can. I'm not worried about stats."

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