FLORENCE, S.C. -- Ailym Ford’s knee is just fine, serving as fair warning to Southern Conference defenses.
The former West Florence star, who was the 2019 conference freshman of the year at Chattanooga, has fully recovered from a torn MCL and ACL, and he rushed for 92 yards in a 13-10 loss to Western Kentucky last fall.
That was the lone game Ford’s team was able to play. Three of its other nonconference matchups were canceled. But the Southern Conference’s official schedule for the Mocs begins at home Feb. 20 against Virginia Military Institute.
After rushing for 1,081 yards (nine yards shy of the program’s freshman record) and nine touchdowns in 2019 before his injury against Samford, Ford is more than ready to play an official season again.
“I’m so excited to be back to 100 percent,” said Ford, the 2018 Morning News Football Player of the Year and Shrine Bowl selection. “I’m ready for us to contend for a championship.”
Ford said he reports to Chattanooga on Jan. 16, with practice starting one or two days later.
But the spring and summer were hard on Ford and his teammates with the conference’s next season an uncertain one because of the pandemic.
“It was hard for a lot of people out here,” Ford said. “There were certainly a lot of questions out there on whether we were going to play or not, and when. So, we just went with the flow as things evolved.”
Chattanooga did not get to have a spring practice. And Ford had to find ways to continue his knee rehab in Florence after his college’s on-campus learning was changed to virtual. There were even days when his rehab clinic in Florence was closed because of the pandemic.
“There was a lot of uncertainty last March. I just had to stay solid and have a lot of faith and trust,” Ford said. “Who knew what the next day was going to be like. I had to take advantage of training in every moment I could get. I’d train with a mask on, do social distancing and things like that.”
But Ford would also have training regimens sent to him by Chattanooga, and he utilized everything he had to his advantage.
Then, Ford was cleared to go a week or two after arriving back on Chattanooga’s campus last fall. From the time the Mocs conducted their allotted 15 fall practices, in addition to playing Western Kentucky, Ford could tell he was back to form.
“It was phenomenal,” Ford said. “I was so glad to be back out there on the field. I didn’t have any problems with my knee. I actually felt better with my knee than I did before I injured it. I had NO worries out there.”
But Ford will not only play a spring season, he will also play this fall. That’s a lot of contact for a running back who likes to rush between the tackles.
“Honestly, I’m ready to play. I’m ready to go,” Ford said. “I’ll just have to see how that goes. I’ll have to roll with the flow. I’ve never played two seasons in one year before. But I do think it will be fun. Those off months not playing is a downside, but we don’t get off months this year. So, there’s not much downtime. You stay focused on the games. You stay focused on you, your play and your classwork.”
Ford sure thinks things can improve since the Western Kentucky game.
“I wasn’t at my best, but that was my first game back,” Ford said. “I was decent, but I feel I can do better. I was thankful to be out there and starting for our team.”
Thankful is the essence of Ford’s 2021 football seasons.
“This is such a great opportunity to play. It makes me more thankful, for sure,” Ford said. “After it was taken away, I became more thankful, appreciative. It makes me go even harder now and not to quit over the little things.
"It’s a blessing to be on the field during the good and bad times. I’m just thankful to be here and able to do it.”