Five years ago, Utah offensive lineman Nick Ford was Britain Covey-sized.
He's a former defensive back, a son of a college receiver, capable of performing cartwheels at nearly 320 pounds and proficient on the ukulele, piano and guitar. Even more remarkably, Ford once moved from defense to offense in the Ute football program.
The transformation traditionally works the other way with the Utes, known for turning receivers and quarterbacks into all kinds of defensive stars. Ford is a potential four-year fixture on Utah’s offensive line. He’s an 18-year-old redshirt freshman from southern California who’s competing with sophomore Orlando Umana at left guard in the team’s preseason camp.
“It's very obvious that's where he belongs,” Ute coach Kyle Whittingham said. “He's everything that you're looking for in an offensive lineman. … He's got great feet, athleticism.”
Expecting him to remain as nimble as when he was a 5-foot-8, 160-pound high school freshman — roughly the dimension of Covey, the Utes' sophomore receiver — would be asking too much. Yet by offensive linemen’s standards, Ford is graceful.
“You can't maintain all of it, going from 160 to 320; that's a big leap,” Ford said. “But I've definitely maintained part of it.”
He’s distinguishable by his hair, dyed blonde. Ford loves the ethnic diversity of the Ute program, and he’s a one-man melting pot. Sometimes mistaken as Polynesian, like many of his teammates, he’s a son of an African-American father and a mother who’s half Portuguese and half Native American.
Roughly 30 years after his father caught several dozen passes from Troy Taylor as a University of California receiver, Ford is protecting the quarterbacks being coached by Taylor, the Utes' offensive coordinator.
Michael Ford “is built like a linebacker now,” Taylor said.
And his son has grown into an offensive lineman. Nick Ford's 6-foot-5 height is not shocking; his father is 6-3 and his mother is 5-11. Doubling his weight in five years is more surprising, stemming from his San Pedro High School team's needing more size at various positions along the way and his father's knowledge of body building.
Utah lineman Nick Ford’s height and weight checkpoints of the past five seasons:
2013 • 5-8, 160.
2014 5-10, 190.
2015 • 6-1, 240.
2016 • 6-2, 280.
2017 • 6-5, 315.
2018 • 6-5, 320.
They would lift weights in the garage after Nick came home from his team’s workouts, and the onetime safety and receiver morphed into a two-way lineman. Having originally committed to Nevada, Ford signed with Utah as a defensive lineman (he chose the Utes over other Pac-12 schools, shortly before Taylor joined the staff).
Whittingham knew from the start that moving Ford to offense would be a possibility. So when Ford made the suggestion, the staff quickly endorsed it.
With an October birthday, Ford is young for his grade. A redshirt season in 2017 aided his development, even though he chafed about not being able to play. He has a big opportunity now, with one vacancy on an offensive line that returned four starters.
Ford is proud of his ability to play all five positions. He also knew the Utes needed to find a left guard this month, and he wanted the job. After a week of camp, Whittingham named him a likely starter at guard. And with two weeks until the Aug. 30 season opener vs. Weber State, Ford intends to stay there.