STARKVILLE — Fittingly, as wind started to knock down Mississippi State’s backdrop during Mike Leach’s bye week press conference last week, the second-year head coach was discussing rising receiver Christian Ford.
“If this thing started to cave in on Ford,” Leach said gesturing at the backdrop, “it wouldn’t bother him a bit. He’d just set it back. I learned that from Ford.”
Ford is a redshirt junior out of Atlanta, where he played at Marietta High School. He redshirted his freshman season in 2018 with Georgia Southern before appearing in 12 games for Iowa Central C.C. the following year.
He joined Mississippi State as a walk-on but didn’t see the field last season.
This year, he’s inching toward becoming the bottom-of-the-rotation guy for MSU’s receiving group as it approaches the depth Leach desires.
Ford played three snaps in Mississippi State’s season-opening win against Louisiana Tech before riding the bench against N.C. State and Memphis.
Behind the scenes, Ford didn't stop.
“If anybody’s working afterwards, it’s him,” Leach said. “He works incredibly hard – never stops working.”
››ROGERS vs. YOUNG: SEC's top passers set to battle when Mississippi State, Alabama meet
When SEC play came around, Ford proved what his coaches saw in practice could turn into production on Saturdays.
He played a total of 53 snaps against LSU and Texas A&M prior to MSU’s bye week. His offensive grades rose by 11 points from one week to the next, according to Pro Football Focus.
Ford had four catches for 40 yards in Mississippi State’s upset against Texas A&M. He was graded as MSU’s fourth-best receiver, lined up in the slot for all but one of his passing snaps and averaged nine yards after catch.
“He has just steadily worked hard and made himself a player,” Leach said.
Ford caught a pair of screen passes in the third quarter at Kyle Field for first downs.
On the first of those, Ford was tackled out of bounds at the Texas A&M bench and chirped at some players on the sideline before heading back to the huddle.
On the second screen pass, he was spun down, got up, shimmied his shoulders, pointed for a first down and headed back. In the fourth quarter, Ford did the same following a first-down conversion of the middle of the field.
Leach has cited confidence and focus as an issue for his inexperienced players. In an environment like Kyle Field’s, Ford was exactly what MSU’s offense needed.
“He’s a pretty optimistic guy,” Leach said. “If he makes a bad play, the next play is gonna be a good one. He doesn’t go in the dumps if something didn’t go right.”