Brotherhood and leadership are two standard terms that most football programs will include in their team cultures.
However, for Sumrall football, the terms take a more literal meaning as the Bobcats turn to brothers John and James Ford to lead the offense and defense.
Rising juniors John and James Ford are twin brothers that both find themselves leading each side of the ball for Sumrall. John is the team’s starting quarterback, while James is the starting middle linebacker, which is essentially the quarterback of Sumrall’s defense.
“They are twins, but they are really different,” Sumrall coach Shannon White said. “Their personalities are different, but they are both super competitive, both super smart and are both very mature. They have a lot of things that are similar but are different players. John is not as vocal as James. James has a short fuse. James is temperamental, and John is even-keeled.”
For the Ford brothers, their positions oddly enough fit their personalities. John is described as a player who leads by example and stays calm and collected, which are qualities wanted in a quarterback. James can be described as the louder brother and a lot more intense than his brother and has traits coaches look for with defensive players.
“(John’s) not scared of the moment,” White said. “He has all the intangibles in a quarterback that you look for, which are poise, leadership and a cool head. James has great instincts. He sees things quickly and is a good tackler on top of that. He has a lot of the attributes that you look for in a middle linebacker.”
The two played essential roles in helping Sumrall get off to a 2-0 start last season.
In the opening game against South Jones, John threw for 295 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 102 yards and a touchdown. James recorded 11 tackles against South Jones, three of which were tackles for loss and two sacks.
However, John’s season, as well as Sumrall’s season, took a turn for the worst in the Bobcats’ 30-6 win over Wesson.
John was off to a 7-for-15 start with a touchdown pass and 104 passing yards. Then in a botched play, Ford took a season altering hit to his shoulder.
“It was supposed to be a fake,” John said. “It was a halfback and tight end wheel, and he got stuck up at the line, so I scrambled right and got hit. I got up, and something didn’t feel right. I just kept going because it was right before the half. I came into the (locker room), and we thought it was a shoulder sprain. I iced it, and I came out and finished the game.”
Instead of a sprain, an x-ray showed that John’s injury was a broken collarbone.
“You’re just thinking, oh shoot,” James said. “Going through those first two games, we were rolling. Then the games after that our offense just kind of fell apart. I knew it wasn’t going to be good for the rest of our season because those games he wasn’t playing it was the defense just constantly being on the field. It would be a three and out, a fumble, an interception or something. It was rough because he’s my brother, and it was also rough knowing that it would hurt our team.”
Despite Sumrall’s defense receiving more playing time than desired, James had a breakout year and recorded 120 tackles, 80 of which were solo tackles, 12 tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception. But for James, he would easily trade his success for the team’s.
“At the end of the day, I’d rather win than have individual success,” James said. “You can’t take any plays off. Any play you take off, that’s a tackle you might miss or something. It’s just having to have that constant motor throughout the whole game, whether you are winning or losing.”
John managed to return for the Purvis game but admits he was not 100 percent healthy. While John was still finding success and was 14-for-28 and passed for 181 yards and a touchdown, another big hit found him.
“The second drive, I bobbled a snap in the endzone, and I jumped on the ball,” John said. “They hit me, and then it started hurting again. All the coaches said that they could tell. I told them everything was fine, so I kept playing. We ran a screenplay that took a while to develop. I threw the ball, and a guy hit me up high. I broke it, and that was it.”
Three months after his injury, John was fully healed and has been successfully throwing the ball again. Even though both brothers realize enhancing their leadership is a challenge, both know it’s a necessity for their team’s success.
“I feel like at the end of the day that we both go out and play hard and are leaders,” James said. “It’s just a matter of how we lead. (John) leads by example, but he won’t call you out in front of everybody, but I may do that. It’s the same with offense and defense too. You want your defensive guys more aggressive and a little more go-getter type. On offense, you’d rather have a well-oiled machine and someone who is cool and collected and always does their job.”
With the new season approaching, White will rely heavily on the Ford brothers to help his team duplicate that first 2-0 start.
“The mid-linebacker is kind of the quarterback of your defense in our scheme, and certainly John is the quarterback of our offense,” White said. “They are both in very critical positions for us, and they are just juniors.”