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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago

Listed measurements: 6-foot-3 ⅞, 292 pounds
2023-24 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Ford has all four seasons of eligibility remaining since he did not take the field in 2022.
Depth Chart: Ford impressed enough in spring practices to lessen Notre Dame’s concerns at defensive tackle. He and junior Jason Onye will combine to be the fourth defensive tackle behind fifth-year Howard Cross, senior Rylie Mills and junior Gabe Rubio. Strictly speaking, Ford and Onye should relieve Cross while Rubio supplements Mills.
Recruiting: If Ford becomes an on-field success story by the end of his time in South Bend, his recruiting origins will be better remembered. For the sake of the story alone, that may be an Irish preference. Ford was considered the No. 6 defensive end in the class, per, when the December of 2021 signing period passed. He had moved up to No. 51 in the overall rankings of the class and was on the verge of committing to Oklahoma.

Then Notre Dame hired Marcus Freeman as defensive coordinator. To hear Ford tell it back then, Freeman was the singular force that swayed him from that near Sooners pledge. While Georgia and Florida were chasing him as finalists when he announced a decision in January of 2021, it came down to Freeman’s influence against Oklahoma.

Ford did not play as a freshman, logical given the Irish had such defensive tackle depth that Mills spent chunks of the season working at defensive end. Furthermore, Ford was recruited as a defensive end and it was the clear and continued growth of his body that moved him to defensive tackle as soon as he arrived on campus. A year spent learning the new role was then expected.

And that year started to show results this spring.

Ford finished the Blue-Gold Game — wearing No. 9 for some never-fully explained reason but likely tied to him playing on both the Blue team and the Gold team, hence wearing a green jersey — with two tackles, both for loss. In an intrasquad scrimmage with a limited snap count, that showing stood out.

Ford, and Onye, showed all the attributes wanted from a reserve defensive tackle in that final spring practice, still a practice performance but one worth remembering come preseason.

It is nothing short of a dereliction of fiduciary duty that Gurley Leep Ford, south of Notre Dame but short of the St. Joseph County Fairgrounds, has not yet asked Tyson Ford to drive one of its cars. The ghost of Buddy Garrity should haunt every member of that marketing department.

Ford spent his sole spring media availability discussing his move to tackle from end, now a year into the move and showing genuine progress, both on the field and in the cafeteria.

“It’s been a smooth transition,” Ford said in mid-April. “I came here at 260 (pounds) playing D end. Now I’m at 290 playing D tackle. It’s been a big transition, putting on 30 pounds this last year, but definitely developed a lot. …

“Learning the new position was kind of difficult the past year, but this spring I have definitely seen growth in my development, especially with my hands, quickness, physicality, learning from the guys ahead of me, Rylie Mills, Howard Cross. Those guys are great leaders, grateful to have them in front of me.”

Ford admitted he struggled in the position to start, particularly last spring, but with time he has come to understand why the coaching staff wanted him to make the move.

“I definitely feel this is my natural position.”

“The move to tackle from end may come as a surprise. Ford was a highly-sought defensive end. He excelled at the position in high school. Why move him so quickly?

“It likely reflects what the Irish strength and conditioning staff expects from Ford’s physical development. If it thought he is more likely to remain long and lean, then he may have remained at end, but if it thinks his body will be best served by adding 10-20 more pounds, then he could suddenly be an ideal tackle.

“Nailing that kind of projection is harder than we think from the outside, but it is also crucial to a player’s development.

“In the short term, it likely means Ford becomes more of a developmental piece. He may be able to hold his own on the inside against the lightweights on Notre Dame’s schedule — and let’s establish those now as Marshall, Cal and UNLV — but with two of those within the first three weeks of his freshman season, he may not be tasked with even that work. It will be more important for Ford to add muscle and learn the intricacies of his new position than it will be for him to measure himself against Cal’s lackluster defensive line.”

It will be curious to zero in on the competition between Ford and Onye to be within the two-deep. To again pull from last year’s “99-to-0” entry, because these similarities and contrasts have not changed, both Onye and Ford were recruited as “Big” ends from areas with middling preps competition, and both moved inside to tackle quickly. With an extra year of collegiate nutrition, Onye is already up to a listed weight of 289 pounds, so he has a clear advantage there.

But Ford has the better profile otherwise. A four-star recruit, rather than three-, from Missouri instead of Rhode Island, he projects to a better collegiate career, plain and simple. Of course, these things can be fickle on a case-by-case basis, but Ford should be given the benefit of the doubt.

If one separates from the other, that will be reflected in the depth chart and more pertinently in snap counts, though there is a very real possibility the two remain neck-and-neck and see about equal action.

Either way, Ford should play in 2023. In fact, he should play every game. Defensive line depth is not a luxury to be under-utilized. Notre Dame may lack an outright star along its defensive line, but it has a solid two-deep across the board, and the Ford/Onye combo makes it a three-deep on the inside.

Ford’s recruiting profile and his quick physical transformation, no offense to Onye’s development, should put him on a steeper trend line than Onye. Game experience matters most, but if the two are on a similar footing in 2023, then Ford will have the inside track to a starting role in 2024 alongside Mills, that is if Freeman and defensive coordinator Al Golden do not get creative by starting Rubio alongside Mills for a comically-lengthy interior duo.

A chance at a starting role with three full seasons of eligibility remaining is about right for a high-profile four-star prospect, even if he had to move positions due to body development en route.

The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 90* Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90* Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 86* Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 85 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth
Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience

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