- Greg Ostendorf, ESPN Staff Writer
NEW HOPE, Ala. -- When Johnathan Ford (New Hope, Ala./New Hope) visited Vanderbilt for its spring game, he saw a program on the rise. Head coach James Franklin was changing the culture, and Ford wanted to be a part of it. He committed to the Commodores while on the trip.
“I like Coach Franklin and the new atmosphere he’s bringing, the whole energy he’s bringing there now,” Ford said. “I like that whole aspect of it. It’s pretty big time up there, the way he’s changing the program. He’s trying to do stuff that’s never been done before up there.”
With the commitment came excitement, but that same excitement has turned into stress with recent interest from Alabama and Georgia, the cream of the crop in the SEC.
“He’s very happy with his commitment,” New Hope head coach Randall Taylor said. “He’s just understanding now that it’s turned into not only a very joyous occasion, but a very stressful occasion as well.”
Still, it’s been humbling as well for the three-star running back. The hard work has finally paid off. Since Oct. 1, both Alabama and Georgia have contacted him, and Crimson Tide assistant coach Jeremy Pruitt even went to see him play last month.
“It felt good,” Ford said of Pruitt’s visit. “They’re a top program in the country right and an in-state school.”
When UGA called, it caught him a little off guard.
“Being in state, you know how it is. Auburn, Alabama -- you hear about him all your life,” Taylor said. “You see them. You’ve been on there campuses time and time again. Then, all of a sudden the University of Georgia calls, which is as big a name as there is in the country. That was pretty special for him.”
Neither school has offered yet, but they are both high on him. Ford visited Alabama last month for the Mississippi State game, and Georgia is trying to get him on campus for a visit before the season is over.
Arkansas State and Mississippi State, who have been on him from the start, continue to show interest in the 5-foot-11, 190-pound running back as well.
Despite missing a few games with a sprained ankle, Ford has enjoyed quite the senior season. It came to an end on Friday night, but not before he proved to everybody that he’s an SEC-caliber player.
“I think what makes him special is the fact that not only is he extremely fast on the field, he’s got great vision and balance, and he’s extremely explosive -- a very powerful and explosive player,” Taylor said.