The Texas Longhorns almost missed at the defensive tackle position in the 2013 and 2014 classes until National Signing Day decisions from Poona Ford and Chris Nelson helped avoid the worst-case scenario.
A little more than a year later, the 5'11, 280-pound Ford is proving that he was more than just filler at need position -- he's rapidly developing into a key piece of the defensive line after playing in nine games as a reserve last fall.
Blessed with enough quickness to allow him to score seven touchdowns at running back as a senior in high school, Ford's ball get-off helps him generate the momentum necessary to rock opposing offensive linemen, but a more impressive attribute is his ability to avoid being controlled by much taller and longer opponents. For many undersized defensive tackles, any potential for disruption ends at the point of engagement because they simply get swallowed up.
What makes Ford extraordinarily unusual is that he can consistently avoid that fate.
"He's not very big but guys never get into his body," head coach Charlie Strong said on Wednesday. "You always talk about just pressing off blocks, running off blocks, and the thing he can do, he can fit up and not get knocked off but he can separate off and go make plays, and a really good pass rusher."
One play from the Arkansas game didn't result in a tackle for loss, but did demonstrate Ford's use of his hands before he got held.
GIF via Alex Dunlap of Orangebloods
Notice the displacement that Ford creates against an opponent who weighs more than 300 pounds, at least 20 more than Ford's listed weight as a freshman.
The South Carolina native registered nine tackles as a freshman, with only one coming from behind the line of scrimmage -- modest production, to be sure. However, it's difficult for defensive tackles to contribute as freshmen and even more difficult for defensive tackles who have to overcome physical limitations like a lack of ideal size and mass, so the fact that he was able to earn playing time speaks highly of his rapid adjustment to the college game.
After the departure of star Malcom Brown to the NFL a year early and numerous injuries along the defensive line, including the foot injury that ended Desmond Jackson's first attempt at a senior season and is still keeping him out of action, Ford is taking advantage of his opportunity to impress the coaching staff.
On Thursday, defensive coordinator Vance Bedford called him one of the three best defensive linemen on the team with a typically colorful quote.
"Last season, Poona Ford was one of our better guys because he is a technician," said Bedford. "He walks out there and looks like somebody should be back there cooking. He looks like a chef. Put a hat on him. All of a sudden, he gets down there and he's a technician. He gets in a great stance and his first step is good. His shifts his hands to the right spot. He does the little things right. He understands the game of football."
There were no guarantees that Ford's unique skill set would translate to college since there are so few analogues for a player of his stature. But he's quickly proving that he has the potential to cook up disruptive plays, leading Bedford to drop a big-time comparison.
"What made Malcom Brown a great football player was not just his athletic ability, he understood the game. Poona Ford has that in him; he has that kind of ability. He's not as big as Malcom, but as far as being a football player and understanding the game, he brings that to the table.