How Texas All-American linebacker Jaylan Ford approaches football, NFL draft: ‘You’re the sheriff of the defense’

All-Big-12 linebacker, third-team All-American poised for NFL draft

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young (9), is sacked by Texas linebacker Jaylan Ford (41) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Rodolfo Gonzalez) (Rodolfo Gonzalez, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

When University of Texas linebacker Jaylan Ford breaks the huddle, his helmet is on a swivel and his communication is on point as he barks out defensive signals.

As the Longhorns’ defensive captain, Ford takes the leadership aspect of his position extremely seriously. It’s a thinking man’s game, and Ford applies his cerebral nature to deciphering the offense and adapting on the fly.

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A two-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection and a third-team All-American selection, Ford is poised to be drafted later this week when his studious nature, instincts and diligence will pay dividends as the 6-foot-3, 242-pound Frisco native gets the call from an NFL team.

“I feel like at the linebacker position, you’ve got to do a little more, you’ve got to sacrifice a little more and, honestly, take more pride in being that guy for the defense,” Ford told KPRC in a telephone interview. “I feel like as the middle linebacker it’s kind of on you to make sure everybody is where they’re supposed to be. You’re like the sheriff of the defense. It’s like being the quarterback on defense. You’ve got to know more than most people out there.

“That comes from making sacrifices and doing what it takes outside of on the field. You’re doing everything that leads to one play or the play after that. Those are the things you have to think about and not just wake up and come to practice. You have to do more. At the end of the day, you have to have pride in what you’re doing. That’s how I was able to develop and why I was a captain for two years. I took pride in trying to be a leader more than most people on my team.”

For two consecutive years, Ford recorded 100-tackle seasons. He had 101 tackles last season, including 10 1/2 for losses and two interceptions.

He finished with 287 career tackles, 27 1/2 for losses, six interceptions, three sacks and four forced fumbles with three fumble recoveries.

Ford could have participated in the Senior Bowl all-star game. Instead, he concentrated on his physical preparations for the NFL scouting combine and his campus Pro Day. At the combine, Ford met formally with the Indianapolis Colts, Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants.

As a three-year starter, Ford has the requisite experience and talent. Now, he feels prepared for the rigors of professional football.

“I feel extremely ready,” Ford said. “I’m eager to get my chance. Whatever round, whatever team picks me, I’m not really too worried. I want to get my chance of doing something I’ve been dreaming of doing since I was a little kid. It hasn’t really hit me that I get a chance to do that. I worked really hard to get to this point in life. I was thinking about that what I worked so hard for is about to happen.

“Once I get past that threshold, it’s so much harder to visualize the goals. I want to be a starting linebacker in the NFL or one of the best linebackers in the NFL. Those are the things I’m excited for, to chase the legacy stuff. I’ve carried a chip on my shoulder the whole time. I’m excited to get the chance to show what I can do.

Ford embraced the job interview style of the combine, which includes physical testing, interviews and medical exams as well as media interviews.

“I felt they all went pretty well,” Ford said of his meetings with NFL teams. “They asked a lot of questions about my tape, about me as a linebacker and as a person. I wouldn’t say it’s overwhelming, to be honest it’s kind of like a job interview. If you treat it like that, then I think it doesn’t get overwhelming. This is you putting yourself up to the plate for something that you’ve been preparing for your entire life and you finally get to show off your preparation to the scouts and coaches.”

Consistently praised by Texas coach Steve Sarkisian for his intellect, savvy and athleticism, Ford was entrusted with a lot of responsibility and

“My main thing is making sure you’re prepared all the time and you’re not really thinking about making mistakes but going out there and playing fast,” Ford said. “Those are all responsibilities that come with being the Mike linebacker.”

What that involved was directing the Longhorns’ defense and relaying how to best utilize the skills of heavyweight defensive tackles Byron Murphy and T’Vondre Sweat. Murphy is a projected high first-round draft pick and Sweat is projected anywhere from the second round to much later in the draft following a recent driving while intoxicated arrest.

“Communication is huge,” Ford said. “If they don’t hear me, sometimes you have to walk up to the line and smack them on the butt, so they hear what you’re saying. You have to make sure they have the call and then I have to make sure the players to my left and right are on the same page. One miscommunication that results in a bad play can be a touchdown.

“Those are my dudes and of course if you watch the tape, you see what they’re capable of and at times it made my job a lot easier, but it’s a team game and we were a team defense, as a whole, I feel that we were all very dominant upfront and that helped us achieve a season at Texas that hasn’t been seen in a long time.”

Ford did a nice job of shadowing running backs, mirroring their path in pass coverage, shedding blocks and consistently delivering crisp tackles. He creates leverage with ideal pad level and technique.

He intercepted six passes over the past two seasons.

At Lone Star High School, Ford was named the District Defensive Most Valuable Player and originally committed to play collegiately at Utah before switching his commitment to Texas.

He had 119 tackles, the second most in the Big 12, as a junior when he intercepted four passes.

At the combine, Ford had a 10-1 broad jump and a 33 1/2 inch vertical leap. He prepared at Exos in Arizona.

“The work is the work,” Ford said. “I can’t really complain. I was a little hurt and didn’t want to participate in everything. I was just trying to get back healthy. Through the season, I played through some injuries and didn’t get a chance to recover until after the season.”

At Texas, Ford majored in communication and leadership. That educational pursuit had some carryover on the football field.

Being a part of the Longhorns’ rich tradition is something Ford cherishes.

“When I first got there, I didn’t really understand how deep their pride runs at the University of Texas and how much they love to rep Texas,” Ford said. “The more I got to be at this school, your love naturally grows for it and you’re able to fall right in line.

“I think it’s really cool to be an athlete there and how many people want to shake your hand and greet you just because they admire you on the field. I think experiencing that was really huge. I get to use that and got a chance to network and build relationships. That was pretty cool. To be a part of that history down the road will be amazing. I would like to be a mentor to kids and just youth in general. I want to give back and use the knowledge I’ve gained.”

Ford is represented by Wasserman Footballl agents C.J. LaBoy and Shawn Aslani.

“I can’t complain at all,” Ford said. “Shawn and C.J. and Wasserman have all been a big help in this process. It’s a huge journey as a football player. This is kind of like a dream come true and you’ve got this really important job interview, the biggest of your life. They’re there with you every step of the way. It’s been cool to have those people in your circle.”

From the perspective of his agent, it’s a proud moment.

“I’ve watched Jaylan play and grow over the years into a real team leader and captain and an amazing middle linebacker,” Aslani said. “Watching his tape, I was like, ‘Wow, he’s such a great athlete.’ Then, I got to know him and his personality is so great that an NFL team would be very lucky to have him.

“He’s the complete package. He works very hard. He’s highly intelligent. During this journey, he has done everything that’s been asked of him. We think he’s going to do great and we’re very proud.”

Aaron Wilson is a Texans and NFL reporter for KPRC 2 and

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