The Valdosta Daily Times
Valdosta State junior wide receiver Gerald Ford has been named a regional finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy, which is awarded to the nation's best Division II football player.
The honor for Ford came after a dominating regular season that saw him catch a team-high 52 passes for 836 yards with 12 touchdowns. Ford leads the Gulf South Conference in receiving yards per game at 92.9 and yards per catch at 16.1, along with scoring this season.
“It feels good,” Ford said following Tuesday’s practice. “I worked real hard to get back from my ACL injury and my rehab for that and to just battling in the classroom and just balance it all out. So it does feel good. It is rewarding.”
Ford, who was academically ineligible last season while rehabbing a knee injury, was one of six players from Super Region 2, and one of 24 from across the country, nominated for the Harlon Hill Trophy.
The two players that receive the most votes from each of the four regions across the country will be invited to attend the Harlon Hill Trophy Presentation Banquet on Dec. 14 in Florence, Ala. The Division II National Championship Game will be played the following day in Florence's Braly Stadium, the home of VSU's conference rival North Alabama. The voting, which is conducted by sports information directors from Division II schools, concludes Saturday.
“What he has gone through to get back here this year and what he has brought to our football team, from a leadership standpoint to a playmaker standpoint, I think it is great,” Valdosta State head coach David Dean said. “I hope he continues on and makes that next cut.”
A New Orleans native that moved to Georgia after being displaced from his home due to Hurricane Katrina, Ford leads a deep receiving corps this season that features three players, including himself, that have over 35 receptions and over 600 yards receiving this season. Fellow junior Seantavious Jones has 36 catches for 660 yards with 10 touchdowns, while junior Regginald Lewis is second on the team in receptions with 45 for 601 yards with four touchdowns this season.
“They are all right there together,” Dean said. “That is a compliment to all three of those guys because you can’t focus in on one of those guys. That is one thing we knew this year: we knew we were going to have some weapons out there.
“I’m proud for Gerald, but Seantavious could easily be up there. There is several guys that could have some consideration.”
Ford is one of five wide receivers nominated for the Harlon Hill Trophy this season. The other nominees from Super Region 2 are: Wingate receiver Chris Bowden, Lane linebacker Corey Jones, Miles quarterback David Thomas, West Alabama defensive end Ridge Wilson and Tuskegee running back Derrick Washington. Two of the six will move on to the banquet in December after voting by the regional sports information directors concludes Saturday.
Regardless if Ford is picked, he said it will be something he will tell his children about in 20 years.
“I’m going to sugarcoat it,” Ford said. “I’m going to tell my kids that I was better than I am. But it is going to be great to build those accolades and then be able to reflect on them in 10, 15 or 20 years. I want all that is coming to me, but it is all about the team at the end of the day.”
If Ford is named this year's recipient of the Harlon Hill Trophy, he will become the third player at Valdosta State to win the award. Former Blazer quarterback and head coach Chris Hatcher, who coached VSU to the 2004 national championship, was named the 1994 winner of the Harlon Hill after throwing for 4,076 yards and 55 touchdowns that season.
Six years later, Dusty Bonner, a former Blazer QB, won after throwing for 4,126 yards and 55 touchdowns, tying Hatcher's Blazer and GSC record for TDs. Bonner, the transfer from the University of Kentucky, won the award again in 2001 after throwing for 4,037 yards with 55 touchdowns and leading the Blazers to a 12-1 record and an appearance in the Division II playoffs.
“I remember the pride this program had when Dusty was named it the first time and then to be a repeat guy,” Dean said. “I talked to Dusty two weeks ago and we were still talking about the times when he played here. That is an honor. I tell him every time I see him, ‘You’re the reason that Valdosta State got on the map for football.’ And hopefully, if Gerald can continue on and maybe somehow win that, it sets the standard for all wide outs that come and play here, just like Dusty did with quarterbacks.”
Lance Funderburk, a Blazer quarterback, was named the 1996 runner-up of the Harlon Hill.
Current West Alabama head coach Will Hall was the last player from a Gulf South Conference school to win the Harlon Hill. Hall won the award in 2003 as a quarterback for the North Alabama Lions. Hall and the West Alabama Tigers could visit the Blazers in the second round of the Division II playoffs Nov. 24, if they beat Miles this weekend in Livingston, Ala.