Written by Alain Poupart of MiamiDolphins.com
The first thing that jumps out, of course, is the name. How could it not? After all, it’s not like a ton of NFL players have the same name as a former United States President. For new Dolphins wide receiver Gerald Ford, having a famous name means having to deal with a lot of ribbing.
“You don’t know the half,” Ford said after one of the minicamp practices. “I wasn’t actually named after the president, but, boy, do I catch it over that name. I mean, from being called ‘The President’ to ‘The Cabinet.’ He was the only president that wasn’t appointed, so I (have caught) a lot of flak about that, even from my coach.”
Kidding aside, if you’re an NFL player sharing the name of a former president, Gerald Ford isn’t a bad way to go. After all, long before he became the 38th President of the United States in 1974, Ford was a good enough player at the University of Michigan to have received (and turned down) NFL offers.
The Dolphins’ Gerald Ford, for his part, very much would like to forge a career as an NFL player, something that will require him to distinguish himself on a very deep and talented Miami wide receiver corps.
He certainly has intriguing potential. First off, he’s got great size for a wide receiver at 6 feet 3, and he also was very productive at Valdosta State.
In his last season there in 2012, Ford led his team with 69 catches for 1,026 yards and 13 touchdowns.
His performance was good enough to earn him Gulf South Conference Offensive Player of the Year honors, as he became the first wide receiver since 1975 to win the award and broke a nine-year streak for quarterbacks.
That came three years after Ford had been named conference Freshman of the Year after catching 41 passes as a redshirt freshman in 2009.
Ford was not selected in the 2014 NFL draft, and one can only wonder whether the situation would have been different if academic issues hadn’t forced him to miss the 2011 and 2013 seasons.
“It may be a little different,” Ford said. “I would have had another year under my belt. It’s always good to get four consecutive years out of college. That always betters your chances of going to the next level.”
The Dolphins actually aren’t the first NFL team to give Ford a look. After the draft, he was signed as a rookie free agent with the Cleveland Browns, who let him go after a few weeks.
He got the call from South Florida in time for the last week of OTAs.
“I was elated, to say the least,” Ford said. “I was just sleeping on my mom’s couch and I was just back home working out. It’s a blessing. A lot of prayers went into that call.
“It’s a big playbook and it’s a process. I take it all in as being a process and I’ll be ready.”
Dealing with adversity is nothing new for Ford, who grew up in New Orleans and was one of those affected by Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall about two weeks before his 15th birthday.
“It was tough,” Ford said. “My family, we stayed in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina when it was happening. It was just a tragedy in every sense of the word. My house was caved in. We moved out. We migrated to Baton Rouge and then ultimately went to Texas, (then) came back home.”
Up until then, he actually had been going by his mother’s surname of Breax before his father asked him to take on his name. He then became Gerald Ford Jr.
Ford ultimately ended up moving to Atlanta with his brother, who was his legal guardian. It was his brother who convinced him to give football a shot as a high school junior.
“It worked out for the best for me, but as you can see, over 3,000 people dead and displaced,” Ford said. “It was just a tragedy. I think about it a lot because that kind of was the breaking point for my life. I was either going to go left or go right, and I’m here with the Dolphins now, so I guess it went right.”
Now, the goal is to make sure he stays with the Dolphins.
Ford knows it’s going to take some hard work, perhaps some luck and definitely accepting the good-natured ribbing that’s sure to come his way.
“I’ve got to look the part,” Ford said, “and the reason why they signed me, that’s got to be the reason why I make the roster.”