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Ailym Ford, Freshman Phenom

By Matthew Golden
SouthernPigskin.com
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The elusive halfback’s first season with the Mocs was one for the record books.

Last fall, Ailym Ford was a twelfth grader shattering records at West Florence High School, located in Florence, South Carolina. The two- star prospect, according to 24/7 Sports, totaled 2,460 rushing yards, and 33 touchdowns in his senior season. Ford would become a finalist for the South Carolina Mr. Football Award, which has been claimed by South Carolina Gamecock stars such as Jadaveon Clowney, Stephon Gilmore, and Marcus Lattimore.

While Ford didn’t garner enough attention to land him at USC, the 5’ 9’’ running back would commit to Chattanooga, and demand attention with his play during his  freshman campaign. The ball carrier would be named a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award, given to the most outstanding freshman in the FCS. Ford becomes just the fourth member of the Mocs to ever be recognized as a finalist for the award. 

The elusive halfback’s first season with the Mocs was one for the record books. In ten games, Ford totaled 1,081 rushing yards, which ranked second in the Southern Conference, and sixth among freshmen in SoCon history. During six games of conference play this season, Ford led the league with 139 rushing yards per game, while totaling seven of his nine touchdowns.

Ford would finish just nine yards shy of becoming the school’s all-time freshman rushing leader, set by Mike Smith in 1977. No other freshman in the country averaged more yards per game on the ground than Ford (108.1), as he finished second in the conference and 11th overall in the FCS.

Entering the regular season, Ford was listed as the third back on the depth chart. As his playing time continued to grow throughout the season, he quickly became the focal point of the offense. During the Mocs’ three game win streak this season against WCU,

Mercer, and ETSU, Ford would carry the ball 93 times, totaling 511 yards and five touchdowns. Only one other running back in school history, Tyrone Coleman, has handled that large of a rushing load during a three-game span. The Florence native would become the ninth back in school history to post 200 rushing attempts in a single season, becoming the first since 2016

Despite totaling 32 yards on five receptions and not being a return man on special teams, Ford would impressively account for the fourth most all-purpose yards in the conference. The ball carrier is the only freshman in the Southern Conference to place in the top ten of all-purpose yards, rushing yards, and scoring offense.

Ford, ranking 20th,  is the only freshman in the FCS that ranks within the top twenty of total rushing yards, and is one of two freshmen in the SoCon to place within the top ten.

Chattanooga’s lead back totaled nine touchdowns this season, enough to tie the school record for scores by a freshman. The rusher posted six games with at least 100 yards rushing, one short of tying the school record of seven set by Eldra Buckley and Tyrone Coleman. Three out of Chattanooga’s five wins would come when Ford broke the 100- yard mark on the ground.

Ailym Ford 100-Yard Games:

-at Jacksonville State: 22 carries, 127 rushing yards, 1 touchdown
-vs Western Carolina: 30 carriers, 195 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns
-at Mercer: 32 carriers, 116 yards, 1 touchdown
-vs ETSU: 31 carriers, 200 yards, 2 touchdowns
-at Wofford: 29 carriers, 136 yards, 2 touchdowns
-vs Furman: 21 carriers, 179 touchdowns, 2 receptions for 12 yards

The future is undeniably bright for Ford, as he puts himself in prime position to possibly become one of the best rushers in Southern Conference history. After ranking as the second leading rusher in the conference this year, Ford looks to steer clear of the “sophomore slump” and continue producing at a record breaking level. On the eve of this year’s national championship, the STATS FCS Awards Banquet and Presentation will be held to determine where Ford places among the twenty finalists for the Jerry Rice award.