NEW PALESTINE — Adam Kincaid didn’t need any convincing. The New Palestine senior noticed running back DuRon Ford’s potential almost immediately last spring.
Initially, Kincaid marveled at his teammate’s explosiveness, but once Ford’s motor revved up, the fleet-footed sprinter’s power and agility proved equally as impressive.
When asked to describe his classmate in one word, Kincaid’s response was quicker than Ford’s first step.
“He’s an athlete,” the Dragons’ starting safety remarked swiftly. “I ran track with him and held his blocks in relays. The first time I saw him come out of the blocks, I thought, ‘wow, this guy is good. This guy is really fast.’”
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A newcomer to southern Hancock County, Ford transferred from Pike High School to New Palestine in the final quarter of the 2015-16 school year, but it didn’t take long for him acclimate to his new surroundings.
Ford gained his footing with the Dragons’ boys track team, posting near sub-11-second times in the 100-meter dash, and showcasing his competitiveness on the 4×100 relay team and as a long jumper.
On the football field this summer, however, is where the 5-foot-7, 170-pound speedster truly hit his stride.
Ford joined a loaded backfield that ran six players deep during training camp, but he excelled rapidly and earned a spot as a rotational starter with Kincaid, a 2015 IFCA Junior All-State selection.
That plan has undoubtedly changed, said head coach Kyle Ralph.
After rushing for 220 yards on 23 carries with four touchdowns during New Palestine’s 38-26 win against Whiteland at Lucas Oil Stadium last week, Ford is now the team’s feature back.
“He definitely came over here excited and hungry for the opportunity, that’s for sure,” said Ralph, who is also the Dragons’ boys track coach. “Honestly, he wasn’t even sure how much he was going to play on Friday. He knew would get in there at some point, but those first couple of carries, you knew that he was into it, prepared and ready to run.
“To see him be that successful was fantastic.”
Road to success
Ford gravitated toward the gridiron early while coming up through the Metropolitan School District of Pike Township.His father, DuRon Ford Sr., was a standout football player and sprinter at Indianapolis Arlington High School, clinching all-state honors in the 200- and 400-meter dashes as a senior in 1996.
Ford Sr. coached his son in football since the third grade, and the lessons stuck with him.
“He is why I am the way I am today,” Ford Jr. said. “He put me on the pathway and I just kept following it even after he stopped coaching me after eighth grade.”
Ford’s love for the game increase as he progressed through Guion Creek Middle School and eventually ended up at Brebeuf Jesuit, where he put his talents to work on the freshman team.
He eventually returned to his home district and suited up as a junior varsity player for the Red Devils, getting a handful of varsity carries as a sophomore and junior.
With his father currently living in Ohio, and a job opportunity opening up for his mother, DeCarla, in Texas earlier this year, Ford Jr. moved to New Palestine where he now resides with his uncle, Anton McReynolds, and legal guardian.
The Indiana High School Athletic Association ruled Ford eligible to participate in athletics at New Palestine due to hardship, presenting him with his first real opportunity to crack a varsity lineup.
“It’s tough. I coached some kids in a similar situation when I was in Cincinnati, Ohio, and kids can sometimes fall because of poor decisions, but he has a lot of support from his uncle,” Ralph said. “It’s one of those things where you could get down on yourself, but he’s got that support. He’s done an outstanding job. He’s an amazing young man.”
The great equalizer
In high school, Ford Sr. posted runs in the 100-meter dash at around 10.3 seconds. While Ford Jr. is still trying to reach that mark, his 40-yard time indicates he’s trending in the right direction.Timed at 4.6 seconds, Ford Jr. was a blur on the field turf surface Friday in downtown Indianapolis. Able to elude and power past the Warriors defense, the running back scored all four of his touchdowns in the first half.
His shortest gallop into the end zone measured 1 yard while his longest reached 66 yards. The other two fell between at 7 and 22 yards. He hauled in one catch and averaged 9.6 yards per carry.
“I knew he was going to go off. The first touchdown he had, I knew it was going to be a big night for DuRon,” Kincaid said. “It was awesome. Any seam, he can hit.”
First, he had to shake the jitters. Coming over to Ralph before the game, Ford Jr. openly admitted he was nervous.
“He told he might get sick,” Ralph laughed. “Obviously, he burst onto the scene last week, but he’s a very humble kid. He was very appreciative of even the opportunity to play. He was so excited to be out there and when he scored his first touchdown, he lit up like a Christmas tree.”
What is most riveting, Ralph said, isn’t the way Ford Jr. instinctively finds a hole when it develops, but his understanding of the flow of the game and his expeditious knowledge of the team’s playbook.
“I think a good word for him is, learner,” Ralph said. “He really inserted himself into this from Day 1 and was eager to learn how we do things, how we operate, and the expectations.
“He’s a great athlete, but athleticism can carry you only so far. There’s a lot that goes into our offense, and he’s done a tremendous job coming in here and working to understanding things and excelling at them.”
Ford Jr. doesn’t have any personal goals set for this season. He hasn’t boasted a final yardage total or have a desire to chase down Indiana’s Mr. Football award. If those types of accolades unfold, it will be because the team has succeeded.“It was an unexpected turn coming here, but it worked out for me. I just wanted to bring every ability and trait I have to help the program,” he said. “I came into it with my team in mind. I’m trying to do my best so we can win.”
His arrival and subsequent offensive explosion has put the short-handed Dragons in prime position to be their best. With an enrollment of 1,094, New Palestine is the smallest school in Class 5A where they are ranked second, according to The Associated Press.
The Dragons were bumped up from 4A last year due to the IHSAA’s success factor after reaching the semistate title game in 2013 and winning their first state title in 2014. A state runner-up finish in 5A last November along with the IHSAA’s new point values will keep the Dragons in their new classification for the foreseeable future.
“We certainly don’t look like a 5A team when you see how many we have out here practicing,” Ralph laughed. “I’m very proud of it, and I know our kids are very proud of it. We’ve got 40 or so kids on the varsity roster and eight of them are freshmen.”
With 14 seniors and six juniors, New Palestine kicked off the year with approximately nine players going both ways, including special teams. Depth is a thin, which has required the coaching staff to be creative and the players to be willing to adapt to change at a moments notice.
“There was a point in time I looked out there during the game on Friday and we had two sophomores and a freshman playing linebacker,” Ralph said. “That’s just part of it. We’re a mid-level 4A school by enrollment, and now we have to play 5A football against some schools that have more seniors than we have players. Our kids are proud of the fact that we find a way.”
With Ford’s emergence, Kincaid was asked by Ralph to move into the slot receiver position, where he started two years ago when the team won state.
It’s not the first time the Dragons have revamped their lineup during the season. Noah Grable and Nick Brickens, who both earned all-state honors, made sacrifices during their tenures, which helped the program win 28 games the past two years and have its best 11 on the field at once.
“(Adam) just shook his head and said, ‘yes, sir.’ He’s an incredibly competitive person and what matters most to him is the team wins on Friday,” Ralph said. “That’s how a lot of our kids operate. We really do have unselfish kids here, and as a senior, we need him on defense. He’s our heart and soul. He’s a great emotional and physical leader out there for us.”
Ford is on his way of doing the same on the other side of the ball.
“To be a great running back takes preparation every day and every week,” Ralph said. “To say last week was a fluke, I don’t think so. Again, he’s a learner, and if he continues to follow the process like he has been, I think it’s just the beginning. He has the chance to be one of the most explosive backs we’ve had here without a doubt. But it takes 11 to do it, and he understands that.”