Jacksonville native Isaiah Ford had shown a few flashes early last year, but new Virginia Tech receivers coach Holman Wiggins was still waiting for The Moment, the kind of play that Ford made throughout his sophomore season in 2015.
And in the Hokies’ third game, Wiggins saw it.
Virginia Tech faced a first-and-10 at Boston College’s 30-yard line late in the first half. Ford lined up on the right side and was given 10 yards of cushion. At the snap, he ran “go” route and when Jerod Evans threw the pass, Ford was draped by a cornerback and safety as they moved into the end zone.
It didn’t matter. Ford made a leaping/highlight touchdown catch.
“I see what everybody is talking about now,” Wiggins remembered thinking.
Ford ended his Hokies career with three years to talk about, a body of work that will could see him selected as high as the second or third rounds of next week’s NFL Draft.
Ford, who attended Trinity Christian, left Blacksburg as Virginia Tech’s all-time leader in catches (210), receiving yards (2,967) and touchdown catches (24).
“Now that I look back at it, they’re pretty impressive,” Ford said of his numbers. “When you’re trying to achieve something, you don’t really sit back because you’re so set on keeping your head down and working hard. But now, I’ll cherish that for a long time. It’s pretty cool.”
Ford was a standout basketball player in high school and had a 59-point game. He initially committed to Louisville to play football and basketball, but when Charlie Strong left for Texas, Ford flipped to Virginia Tech.
“I remember taking a visit to Virginia Tech and falling in love with the campus and they worked really hard on my mom and persuading her,” Ford said. “I was up in the air about the decision and I really wanted to make the best decision for myself. I prayed about it and I remember waking up one day and saw it flash on the bottom of the [television] screen saying Charlie Strong had taken the job at Texas.
“That was my decision right there.”
Ford stepped right in and had 56 catches for 709 yards and six touchdowns in 884 snaps as a true freshman. He followed that by setting the single-season school records for catches (75) and touchdowns (11) while posting 1,164 yards. Coach Frank Beamer retired and was replaced by Memphis’ Justin Fuente.
“I think it simplified everything for us,” Ford said of the scheme change. “It limited the amount of routes that I ran. Being able to play primarily the ‘X’ [which lines up on the weak side of the formation] last year and running slants, outs, fades and posts, it helped me.”
Said Wiggins, who followed Fuente from Memphis: “[Ford] has an awesome skill set. We were going to test him mentally with what we were asking him to do position-wise and he adjusted well. Picking up the offense came fairly quickly for him. He knew going in what his advantages were as a player and what we tried to do was play to his strengths.”
Wiggins said Ford’s ability to quickly grasp a new offense last year will help him in the NFL.
“His football intelligence is through the roof,” Wiggins said. “We got into the room and draw it on the board and then go out on the field and he already had it [learned]. That gave us the flexibility to move him around.”
Ford had three 100-yard games and broke his own single-season reception record (79). He had 1,094 yards and seven touchdowns.
Ford, 21, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.61 seconds at the Combine, but improved to 4.57 at his Pro Day. His best attribute is his quick start at the snap, which allows him to create early separation. And as the catch against Boston College exhibited, Ford is adept at using his frame (6-1/194) and athleticism (35 1/2-inch vertical) to make plays in the red zone.
“He’s not quite as explosive as the other [receivers], but I like his desire to go into traffic and get the football,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper said. “He’s probably more of a second-tier, early third-tier receiver, but I think he’s a little underrated.”