May 1, 2009

Leading the Red: Ford Is the Sun’s Athlete of the Year

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Those inside the Cornell sports world recognize him as the second all-time passing leader at quarterback in school history and a first-team all-Ivy third baseman. Those outside of the Cornell sports world know him as that guy from Cornell who was mentioned in an episode of “The Office.”
Whether he was heaving last-second touchdown passes into the end zone at Lehigh or helping the baseball team post its first winning season and capture its first division title since 2005, senior Nathan Ford has done it all.
“I certainly think there’s a tremendous amount of respect for him in a lot of ways,” said baseball associate head coach Tom Ford. “He leads by example, is a very hard worker and does things the right way on and off of the field. Also, I think guys look up to him just because of his performance, being very consistent over the course of the season and also the idea that he comes through in so many clutch situations.”
Ford, a three-year starter at quarterback for the Red, led the Ivy League in passing with 281.5 yards per game and total offense with 284.9 yards per game. His 2,815 passing yards last year earned him the second highest mark at Cornell in a single season. Ford has cemented his legacy in the Cornell record books in a number of areas.
“It is definitely a huge honor, especially when you think of the type of athletes we have had at the quarterback position,” Ford said. “As far back as Gary Wood ’64, Ricky Rahne ’02 and Ryan Kuhn ’06, they are all just great guys. I actually remember before the first game last season, Rahne actually sent me an e-mail wishing me good luck.”
That’s icing on the cake,” Ford said. “It’s great to be able to be successful. At the same time, it comes back to the team and winning and losing. I think I will remember more team experiences than individual ones, but the individual ones are nice, too.”
Ford led the Red to a couple of remarkable victories in 2008 including a 17-14 upset over preseason Ivy League favorite Yale in the second week of the season and a 25-24 last-second stunner in the following week at Lehigh. Trailing 24-19 with four ticks left on the clock and faced with fourth-and-goal from the 20 yard line, the tri-captain connected with senior wide receiver Jesse Backer in the end zone just as time expired.
“The Yale win was definitely big just because that was the only team in my entire career that I had not beaten,” Ford said. “Being able to walk out of here and say that we beat every Ivy League team is definitely saying something. I would also have to go with the Lehigh win. It was just such a crazy game. I just remember being exhausted after the game. That kind of took a lot of us because it was an emotional win.”
Aside from the numbers and records that Ford currently holds, it is his poise in big game situations that he might perhaps be best remembered for. In a four-game series earlier this season against Penn, the Red was about to drop its second contest to the worst team in the league before Ford roped a two-out, three-run blast over the right field fence to win the game, 6-4, in the bottom of the ninth.
Coach Tom Ford, no relation, served as the team’s head coach for the first three years of Nathan Ford’s collegiate career.
“I hate to isolate one [moment] because there have been a number of them, but I would have to say his three-run walk off home run against Penn was a pretty special moment there,” coach Ford said. If he doesn’t do that, we don’t have an opportunity to play Princeton. I just think that was one [moment where] we were just down and out there and he just came up, hit it and next thing you know, we’re still playing baseball.”
Ford paces the Red with eight long balls and ranks second with .373 batting average, good for fourth in the Ancient Eight. In addition, Ford entered the last weekend of the regular season with a career .364 batting average, two points higher than the all-time school mark set by Erik Rico from 1999-2002. However, being a star athlete in two sports is not as easy as it looks.
“There have definitely been times where it has gotten really rough,” Ford said. “Both coaching staffs here are awesome about coordinating and being calm about what I should and should not do. [Strength and conditioning] coach Tom Howley did a great job with training. He’s always looking out for me. Logistically, it got pretty complicated sometimes going from baseball to football practices at night. Again, both coaching staffs were great about it and willing to help me do it.”
Ford’s accomplishments are not restricted to the diamond or the gridiron as his abilities and hard work have also paid dividends in the classroom. The operations research and information engineering major was selected to the Academic All-Ivy League team with a grade-point average of better than 3.0.
“When I was getting recruited, I would only look at schools with quality educations,” Ford said. “My parents preached that. It was my only option, so coming in here I knew the whole point of it was to get a degree.”
Scouts from Major League Baseball teams have also shown interest in Ford, who may be a potential draft pick come June.
“He’s certainly the kind of person who you want playing for you,” coach Ford said. “He comes through in clutch situations and he conducts himself well on and off of the field. He’s just done a tremendous over the course of his career here as far as playing the game the way it should be played.”