Nov. 7, 2006
Story and Photos by Brandon Hansen
Interview conducted by Paul Seebeck of the Eagle Radio Network
Toughness is sometimes a word that can describe a football player. Perseverance is another word. Hard work can be used as well.
However, there isn't a word that can describe Eastern Washington University senior starting cornerback DeNique Ford and what he went through just a few short years ago. As a junior in high school, he lost his mother, Jacqueline Foster, to cancer.
He had to work two fast food jobs at the same time -- McDonald's and Burger King -- his senior year to help make a $1,200 house payment and support his family.
"It was really hard on me and my family," said Ford, who didn't see himself playing football in college but eventually changed his mind. "I know that my mom would have wanted me to be successful."
Ford had last seen his father alive when he was just beginning high school, and learned that he died of a drug overdose his senior year.
"That hit me pretty hard. He was a good person -- he never treated anyone badly."
So he and his sister Jackina, who left college to work and help save the home, supported a household at an age when most high schoolers are concerned about the prom.
Meanwhile, Ford made major strides on the field despite juggling schoolwork and his jobs. He had to quit competing in track and field because of his workload, but he felt like he had to pursue the gift that he had been given to play football.
"The thing that kept me going was that I really felt that my back was against the wall. I couldn't let myself down and I couldn't let my family down," said Ford. "That's what kept me going."
And he didn't stop going.
He was a first team All-Ivy League selection in his senior season, playing for Canyon Springs High School in Moreno Valley, Calif. He played one year at Riverside Community College where he earned first team All-Mission Conference National Division honors as a freshman in 2003 after snatching two interceptions and finishing with 70 tackles.
And as luck would have it, Ford was scouted by Eastern, and felt a real connection with the team when he made a trip to campus.
"I sat down and had a talk with Coach Wulff in his office. It seemed like we were on the same page," said Ford.
He had told no one in high school or junior college about his hardships after the death of his mother. He kept his feelings pent up inside of him and to himself.
But the turning point was his meeting with Wulff, who has lost his first wife Tammy to cancer in 2002. The head coach asked Ford what his story was and the cornerback revealed everything.
And since then, Ford has kept nothing pent up on the field. More than 100 career tackles, two Big Sky Championship rings and a college degree are some of the things that he will walk away from EWU with.
"I thank God for everything that has happened," said Ford. "Playing football has kept me on a good path."
While reflecting on his career, Ford's thoughts go back to his mother.
"I know personally that she would be very proud of me with the things that I have accomplished," he said. "For me to turn that around, I'd like to dedicate that to her."
To make it through, Ford has had a certain philosophy. It's a philosophy that has allowed him to overcome great odds.
"No matter what happens, stay strong and never give up," he said. "Keep striving for what you believe in."
And now with his last game as an Eagle looming this Saturday, Ford had just one goal.
"Everybody remembers the last game, so I want to make that a win."