Friday Night Hero: Salisbury’s A.J. Ford
By Ronnie Gallagher
Salisbury’s Ike Whitaker blistered East Davidson last week for 133 yards on the ground. Dario Hamilton ran for 109 more and set the school’s all-time rushing record.
A.J. Ford wasn’t the leading rusher. He didn’t break any records.
He was just A.J.
Ford didn’t seem to stand out as much as his backfield mates Friday in the 49-7 win. That is, until you looked at the stat sheet. He joined his buddies as a 100-yard rusher (107) and scored three touchdowns on runs of 5, 44 and 13 yards.
“Dario gets all the publicity and I don’t know why,” coach Joe Pinyan said. “A.J. is right on his heels. On Friday, A.J. had the best night of all of them.”
Hamilton has 520 yards rushing on the season and Ford 453. Ford is also third in the county in scoring with 54 points, thanks to nine touchdowns.
Pinyan never doubted Ford, even when he was a jayvee player. Former Salisbury coaching legend Pete Stout didn’t either.
“Coach Stout once told me, “He’s no Ford. He’s a Cadillac,” Pinyan recalled. “And that’s true. He’s top quality.”
You can bet that with every good performance, Ford is pointing skyward in appreciation of his mother, who passed away when he was in middle school.
“When I lost my mama, that’s when I started playing football,” Ford said. “It got my mind off of it. Every game, I say a prayer and say this game is for my mama, and I play as hard as I can.”
And that’s whether he gets a lot of carries or not.
“A.J. plays better without the ball,” Pinyan admitted. “He blocks well and it’s contagious. Dario’s starting to play that way, too. They are complimenting each other.”
“I’ve played with Dario since middle school,” Ford said. “He’s my best friend.”
Together, they have helped Salisbury to a 6-0 start, but in different ways. Hamilton has the speed. Ford has the determination.
“If it’s fourth-and-two, we know A.J. will get the first down,” Pinyan said. “He’s more of a brute runner, but he can outrun you, too.”
Leadership is something else Ford brings to the table.
“He has had to grow up a little differently,” Pinyan said, referring to his mother’s absence. “He had to grow up a little tougher. He’s a grown man in a kid’s body.”
He was certainly a man among boys on Friday.
“It feels good to have three over 100 yards,” Ford said. “It shows everybody was blocking. Salisbury hasn’t been 6-0 in a long time and I feel everybody’s stepping up to the challenge in our senior year.”
Ford has no problem being one of the pieces instead of being the Hornets’ sole star.
“I don’t think he looks at himself like he’s in the shadows,” Pinyan said. “He’s not a rah-rah guy. He leads by example. And there’s a college out there somewhere who is going to give him a chance ó and they’ll be real happy about it.”
Not as happy as Ford. It will be yet another gift to his mother.