LaKeitharun Ford - A Quiet Competitor
Oct. 7, 2007
The following article about senior defensive back LaKeitharun Ford was featured in the Tiger Gameday Program for the October 2 game with Marshall. It was written by athletic media relations intern Evan Elliott.
LaKeitharun Ford is described for the press and Tiger fans as a "speed defender," the corner back that covers ground and so plays the wide side of the field. That's understandable, considering he runs the 40 in 4.3 seconds--with a pulled hamstring. He was a three-sport athlete in high school, competing on the track and the basketball court in addition to playing under the lights every Friday night.
Ford grew up in Rosedale, Mississippi, about 115 miles south of Memphis. Sleepy Rosedale is the same Rosedale from blues great Robert Johnson's "Traveling Riverside Blues," later remade in the 60s by Cream as "Crossroads." The town is said to be home to the street corner where Johnson sold his soul to the Devil, at the corner of Mississippi Highways 1 and 8, now at the south end of town and the site of West Bolivar High School.
Covering five-and-a-half square miles and home to just under 2,500 people, Rosedale is "a very small town," as Ford describes it. "Everybody knows everybody in Rosedale."
Growing up in a small town, Ford was a fairly quiet kid. He was known in class for participating appropriately, but brief answers were typical. In fact, his favorite response was a simple "no."
Ford described a middle school day when his usual "no" earned him the nickname he carries today.
"We were in social studies class, and the teacher was explaining what a veto was, like how the President vetoes a bill, like to reject all the time. And since I always told people "no," they just started calling me Veto."
His mother still calls him Veto.
Entering high school, Ford found his nitch in athletics. He'd started playing football in middle school, and during his freshman year he ran for West Bolivar High School's track team. Speed developed easily.
"In track, I won every meet except two," Ford said. "My freshman year, I lost at state in the 100 and 200, and my sophomore year I lost state in the 100 and 200."
Prior to the 4.3-40, Ford set a school record in the 100 meter dash with a time of 10.22 seconds. With that speed, state championship meets his junior and senior years turned out differently.
Ford's high school track coach was also the basketball coach, and Ford spent winters with him, dribbling past defenders down the gym floor before spring track practices began.
"I remember my first dunk," Ford explained. "I was on a fast break, and I went to lay it off the glass, but when I jumped, the rim was right there, so I just put it in. The crowd went crazy."
His gift, which apparently surprised even LaKeitharun, was fairly obvious to Coach Henry Johnson, who used Veto in most every situation imaginable on the football field. He did a little punting, he returned kickoffs, he caught passes, threw them on occasion, and intercepted them with regularity.
Kickoff returns for touchdowns weren't uncommon observations for Eagles' fans during Ford's time there. His longest return for a touchdown was 82 yards.
"I remember," he said, "it was the first game of the season, on the first kickoff."
As much glory as there was to be had returning kicks for six points and running the flea flicker, Ford preferred playing defense because "on offense I was the trick play guy," he said. On defense, he got to play every down.
Coach Johnson understood and was happy to oblige his speedy defender, who led the team with six interceptions and eight fumble recoveries.
"Coach Johnson was a nice guy," Ford said. "He wasn't the type of coach that would jump down your throat or anything. He would get you to understand the game from his perspective. He would sit you down and just teach you."
"He was more of a mentor (than a football coach)," Ford said. "We still talk. He calls me to ask about our games."
Ford's transition to Memphis from high school and Mississippi Delta Community College saw him become a student of the game. He focused on his duties as a defensive back and became a specialist. But his approach to competition hasn't changed at all.
"I don't talk much before a game, I just get quiet," he said. "I get anxious and throw up all the time. I eat light (before competing) because I know I'm going to throw up."
He did it before track meets, before basketball and football games, and still does before Tiger games.
"It's not that I'm nervous, it's just the competition," he said.
His love of competing and of competition has made Veto--not surprisingly--an avid sports fan. But it may come as a surprise that unlike the rest of us, Ford follows no team in particular.
"Growing up, I was a Mississippi State fan," he said. "But once I started playing football, I didn't really have a favorite team. I just like football, to watch football."
Rather than owing loyalty to a team, Ford prefers to follow the paths of favorite athletes. As far as the NFL goes, he likes Asante Samuel.
As a corner back, Ford could have made a worse pick for a professional's work to admire, even emulate. Samuel, now in his fifth season with the New England Patriots, is a Pro Bowl corner back selected in the fourth round from UCF. Samuel is the cornerstone of the notorious New England secondary and led the Pats with 10 interceptions in 2006, including three in one game.
Ford's only pick in 2006 came against Tulsa. He nabbed Paul Smith's intended touchdown pass at the goal line and returned it 39 yards.
He has recorded 15 tackles in the first three games of the 2007 season, including one for a loss.
As a three-sport athlete in high school and an enthusiastic spectator of both college and professional sports, LaKeitharun jokes about his disdain for the game of baseball. Despite strolling into the media relations office sporting a Chicago Cubs cap, he assured me that he was not a fan.
Ford had a brief stint with America's pastime in high school. He tried out for the West Bolivar team.
"I tried out for baseball one day," he explained. "I told the coach I didn't want to play in the field and I didn't want to bat. I just want to steal, to run the bases."
The coach agreed, but after some thinking, Ford decided he'd be better off sticking to track during the spring. Opposing catchers should be relieved. It seems the track spikes kept the next José Reyes off the base paths.
"Baseball, I hate baseball," he said with a grin. "But I love to watch the Yankees. That's the only team I can watch."
Like any Division-I athlete, each week's competition is first on Ford's mind, but he looks forward playing Southern Miss this fall because he will get the chance to line up across from one of his best friends, Chris Johnson, a receiver for the Golden Eagles. Ford tallied four tackles against Southern Miss last year.