Using Seniors, Ford Brings New Twist To Camp

BELLEVUE, Wash. - For the last couple years Tracy Ford has been toiling in the shadows, not cheating the grind. The former Bellevue High School trainer opened up his new shop - Ford Sports Performance - and has since made a name for himself as a pre-NFL Draft training specialist. But his roots are with the kids, so this past weekend Ford and his staff went back to their roots - but with a twist.

“We’ve had a lot of these guys who are training in the gym - a lot of the top guys - and it’s like hey, we need to do something to help the kids from the Northwest get exposure,” Ford said Sunday about May Madness - a camp that brought together not only the top recruitable football players for 2016, 2017, and 2018, but also some of the already signed players for 2015. So for the first time, graduated seniors were placed alongside their younger counterparts in a format outside of what they would normally see at their high schools.

“Why not put on an event where we have the top guys there that are already training in the gym, put ‘em on the field at the same time and give some of the younger guys - the 2016 kids and ’17 and ’18 kids - a chance to see these guys, work with these guys, and give them that motivation?” said Ford. “

“That’s the big thing we wanted to do today.”

So that’s how we ended up with Washington signee Jusstis Warren, a 240-pound linebacker from Lincoln High in Tacoma, sharing a line with Montana-bound Cy Sirmon from Wenatchee and 2016 Federal Way hopeful Andrzej Hughes-Murray during individual position drills.

“We’re trying to bill this as more of a fraternity,” said Ford. “Most of these guys won’t play in the All-State game, so why not compete at the same time and be on the field one last time with each other? Get to know with each other at the same time, work with each other and build a relationship outside of college. Some of these guys, if they are preparing for the NFL Draft five years from now will remember that time when they all worked out together.”

Bringing in the signed kids like Bothell’s Ross Bowers - who just finished spring football at Cal - to go up against Lake Stevens 2016 quarterback Jacob Eason, considered the top signal-caller for that class in the country, wasn’t a stunt. It wasn’t done to boost the camp’s cache or credibility, although it certainly didn’t hurt. It was the football equivalent of a social experiment. Put the guys that have already been there next to the guys trying to make it, trying to fill their shoes.

The camp concept is a natural evolution for Ford, who has gone through a similar transformation. “We knew Tracy when he was just a passionate grinder,” Bellevue senior and Air Force signee Ross Connors. “He likes us to spread that message to the younger guys of just how passionate he is about this stuff and how much he wants to help people. It was great competition.”

It also helps that during any normal Ford Sports Performance training session you might have high school players rubbing elbows with college kids who are looking up to NFL types like Bobby Wagner, who was at the camp Sunday. The players at May Madness were coached by players that played high level D1 ball, and even some that moved on to the NFL.

“We wanted to create a college atmosphere and a practice plan exactly what they are going to see so they are prepared and they get the reality of what it’s going to be like,” said Ford. “You get all the recruiting love when you’re on your recruiting trips, but once you get there it’s work.”

That’s what brought Warren, who was one class shy of enrolling early in time for spring football at Washington. He’s looking for any opportunity he can get to work.

“I just like competing,” he said. “I’m a competitor, so I wanted to get out here and compete against some of the best.”

One year ago, Warren had no Pac-12 scholarship offers. By the time February came around, he had signed a letter of intent with the Huskies. Hughes-Murray is now the player that finds himself in the exact same spot with the exact same goal - to get noticed. “It was nice to see what I have to look forward to, as well as what I have to work on that those guys are good at,” he said of Sunday’s camp. “It was great to see what they bring to the table.”

Ford said it wasn’t hard to get guys like Warren, Bowers, Oregon-bound offensive linemen Shane Lemieux and Calvin Throckmorton, and Bellevue offensive lineman Henry Roberts - a UW signee - out to compete. It was worth the price of admission to see those OL, along with OL Camp MVP Foster Sarell - arguably the top player on the west coast for 2017 - go up against guys like 6-foot-8 Jared Goldwire from Kentwood and 6-foot-4, 340-pound Tiano Tialavea from O’Dea.

“They like to work,” he said. “At the end of the day, they are coming for a workout. They are coming to get coached by other guys that have played at the Division-1 level. Some of these guys have played at the NFL level.”

Inviting the top 2015 guys wasn’t the only wrinkle that turned May Madness into a unique event. There was also a Fastest Man contest, won by 2017 Juanita athlete Salvon Ahmed, and a Strongest Arm contest - won by Eason. They also had scripted 7-7 sessions where the players’ football IQ was tested.

“For me, I’m moving from linebacker to safety so I learned just as much from these younger guys as they did from me today,” Connors said with a grin.

“For us it’s strictly about the kids and getting them as much exposure as possible,” added Ford.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Hughes-Murray might end up being one of the real winners of May Madness, as it’s just a matter of time before his recruitment explodes. Warren knows what that feeling is like, and passed on some words of wisdom that helped him pave the way for his future college experience.

“Make sure you’re always going hard, because there’s always someone watching,” Warren said. “Stay humble and let the rest take care of itself. It’s crazy to think that a year ago I had no offers, but then I picked up a lot of offers and signed with the University of Washington. Go Dawgs!”


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