At another time, in another venue, perhaps when the weather’s warmer, Pat Narduzzi will worry about Paris Ford’s interception total, pass breakups and sacks off a safety blitz.
But on the first day of spring drills Wednesday on the South Side, Pitt’s coach was more interested in the two extra study hall hours Ford did not need to meet academic mandates but put in, anyway.
One of those little things that matter.
Pitt student-athletes need 16 hours in study hall in a two-week period, and they often split them in half. But when Ford needed 10 in the second week, he did 12, according to Narduzzi.
“He wasn’t moaning, ‘I have to get 10 this week.’ He got two more.
“That to me shows the maturity up there,” the coach said, pointing in the general direction of the Cathedral of Learning, “which is going to transfer on the field as well.”
Two years ago, getting Ford to sign a letter of intent with Pitt was considered one of Narduzzi’s greatest recruiting victories. Yet, it’s been a bumpy ride for the Steel Valley graduate.
He missed most of his freshman training camp while seeking academic clearance, redshirted the 2017 season and bounced from safety to cornerback last year while playing in only nine games. Then, he stayed home from the Sun Bowl while dealing with what he called “a real personal problem.”
Now, with his head clear, Ford enters a critical year in his development, and he can’t stop smiling. All because he’s back at safety, and he’s growing up.
“It feels good to be back at my position,” he said. “That’s what I was recruited for, but the team needed me at corner, so that’s what I did for the team. But I’m real happy to be back at safety. I know my role now.”
Ford, a 6-foot, 195-pound rising sophomore, is facing competition at safety from more experienced players Jazzee Stocker, Therran Coleman and Bricen Garner, and he’s trying to win the punt return job. He welcomes all of it, saying, “May the best man win.”
Watching others play a game in which he has excelled for years wasn’t easy for Ford.
“I feel like I’ve been a chained dog,” he said. “But now, I’m ready to just rage out. It’s been difficult, but having my friends (and teammates) like Damar (Hamlin), Dane (Jackson), having those guys comforting me, it felt good.”
While he was back home during Sun Bowl week, Ford said he received phone calls from teammates, staff members and “Coach Duzzie,” who were checking to see if he was OK.
“It showed they cared,” he said. “Most guys are at a game in Texas, shoot, I wouldn’t bother, but now I see they really care about me. Those guys were like brothers. They were there every step of the way.”
Narduzzi is eager to see Ford transfer his athletic ability into splash plays on the field. The only stats he recorded last season were five tackles and a 15-yard kickoff return.
“He’s really grown up. I’m happy with where he is right now,” Narduzzi said. “Everybody takes a little bit longer, but he’s a great football player. He’ll make a lot of plays. We just have to get him on the field.”
That means learning lessons on the field and during video study, but Ford thinks returning to his more natural position of safety will help. Safeties get greater freedom to roam the field, which actually fits Ford’s personality.
“I like to be around everywhere, north, south, east, west,” he said. “I hate just being glued on one person.”
He has to earn that right, however, and he believes he is taking those necessary steps.
“I’m starting to mature,” he said. “I feel like college teaches you how to be a man, turn a boy into a man.
“I see it in my everyday life. I wake up and feel like I’m more positive. I’m not down anymore. I feel like I’m making everyone around me happy.
“Same Paris, same guy, just a smarter Paris.”