DeKALB – Back in August, Perez Ford had no experience on the defensive line.
Roughly a week before Northern Illinois’ 2012 season opener against Iowa, Ford, who had spent fall camp as a running back, was told he would be moving to defensive end.
A tailback and free safety at Romeoville High School, Ford came to NIU as a versatile athlete.
When he made the switch, Ford had never had to play in that position.
As NIU defensive coordinator Jay Niemann puts it, Ford had to start from scratch.
“You have to get him in a stance, teach him to get in and out of his stance, how to read a key, how to strike a blow, shed a block, make a tackle,” Niemann said. “It’s not as though you don’t have any knowledge of any of that as a football player, but you really have to treat it as starting from the ground level and moving up. Start from scratch is what it boils down to.”
Fast forward to spring ball.
Ford’s put on roughly 30 pounds and said he now enjoys the defensive end position more than running back. He also has game experience under his belt after playing as a true freshman and not redshirting.
He finished the year with six tackles and one tackle for loss.
“Coach [Dave Doeren], he explained to me, I’m a great player, he wanted me on the field, I’m going to make plays. Things like that,” Ford said. “I was perfectly fine with [not redshirting] because he asked me do I want to play, I said ‘yeah.’ ”
At first, the toughest thing Ford had to do was learn the defensive system after spending fall camp as a running back. He wasn’t able to fully pick it up until right before spring ball began.
He said the position didn’t really become second-nature to him until Orange Bowl preparation down in Florida.
Niemann said the difference between Ford’s game from fall camp to spring ball is night and day. He’s listed as a second-team defensive end on the Huskies’ spring depth chart, and Niemann said Ford has worked with the first team in third-down situations.
“He’s come a million miles, no doubt. Very explosive athlete. There’s no doubt that he’s going to be able to contribute to our success here,” Niemann said. “He’s getting better and better every day because he’s got great habits, work ethic and attitude. And a great skill set. It’s just a matter of learning the position and getting more comfortable every day.”