Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Advertise in our classifieds section
Your classified listing could be here!
October 4, 2022

The heart of the defense: Jaylan Ford

Lorianne Willett

Many things were different when Jaylan Ford arrived in Austin to play for the Texas Longhorns in 2020. Ford was just a three-star recruit, an afterthought behind the names of then-head coach Tom Herman’s top 10 class, featuring the likes of Bijan Robinson and senior teammate Alfred Collins as premier five-star talents. Fast forward four seasons later, and Ford is one of 12 Butkus Award semifinalists, given to the top linebacker in the country. 

Ford is now a staple of one of the fiercest defenses in the nation, ranking in the top 25 of all Power 5 teams in total defense, sitting just behind Iowa State for the top spot in the Big 12. Ford is now in his final season with the Longhorns, having given Texas three seasons as a starter and serving as a key piece of the rebuild that has turned a 5-7 team into an 8–1 team heading into the TCU matchup this Saturday.

“At the end of the game, I don’t want to leave any doubt and question,” Ford said. “I feel like that’s how we get our respect.”

Ford has been one of the best tacklers in the Big 12 the last two seasons, making over 100 tackles last season, second best in the Big 12, and leading the Longhorns with 65 tackles after nine games this season. Ford is not just a tackler in the second level, as he’s one of six players in the Big 12 with over 10 tackles for loss on the year. He’s the only player with multiple interceptions and over 10 tackles for loss in the whole conference. Ford can make plays behind the line of scrimmage, in the second level and the passing game, making him a key asset for the Longhorns.

“We just do a good job of making sure we’re in our gaps, we’re able to stop the run,” Ford said. “Making sure we stop the run so that in the later parts of the game they become one dimensional.”

In last week’s game against Kansas State, Ford made his mark when the team needed him most. He was tied for the team lead in tackles and got into the backfield for 1.5 tackles for loss. Most importantly, though, Ford came up huge when the offense was struggling most.

With 10.07 seconds left in the third quarter, the Texas offense had hit a roadblock. After starting the game with three scoring drives out of four, the offense had failed to score for five straight possessions. The offense was in need of assistance, but Ford, alongside sophomore edge rusher Ethan Burke, came to the rescue. 

On a first and 10 from the Texas 19-yard line, Burke beat his blocker off the edge while Ford shot up the middle, forcing Kansas State quarterback Will Howard to back up and fall into the arms of Burke. The ball came loose, and as the pile scrambled to grab the ball, Ford saw an opportunity. With the ball squirming around next to Howard’s body, Ford dragged the pigskin into his arm, giving the Longhorn offense the ball at the five-yard line. One play later, the Longhorns had scored their first touchdown in the second half. 

“Ford was flying around,” senior defensive back Jahdae Barron said. “It makes my job easy.”

Ford is one of nine seniors on this veteran Texas defense, but it’s hard to argue anyone is as consistent as Ford. The linebacker has either been a part of a turnover or recorded seven or more tackles in all but one game all season, versus then-No. 3 Alabama. 

“We have a long season ahead of us still,” Ford said after the Alabama game. “(The) main thing for us is to not get complacent.”

Despite close games and concerns in the quarterback room, the team hasn’t gotten complacent and are three wins away from a Big 12 championship title.

With three must-win games ahead of the Longhorns, Ford and the rest of the Longhorn defense must continue their winning ways by stopping the run and forcing turnovers. Ford, the captain of the defense, will be the player to watch for the rest of the season.

“We’ll see how much they respect us,” Ford said. “We got to go out there and play.”

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Evan Vieth, Senior Sports Reporter
Evan is a junior journalism major and the sports editor for the Texan. He is originally from Washington DC and has covered UT sports for 4 semesters and counting. He has covered the Men's Tennis, Soccer, Baseball and Football teams and had the opportunity to write about the 2023 Longhorns in the Sugar Bowl.
Lorianne Willett, Photo Editor
Lorianne is a Journalism and Global Sustainability junior from San Antonio, Texas. Currently, she is the Photo Editor. In her free time, she enjoys reading and playing tennis.