2023 CFL Draft profiles: Regina DB Jaxon Ford chasing legacy of grandfather, Riders’ legend Alan Ford

Photo courtesy: Piper Sports Photography/Regina Rams

Most children grow up thinking that their grandfathers are larger than life. For Regina Rams’ defensive back Jaxon Ford, it has always been true.

While the 22-year-old is getting set to take the first steps of his pro football career in the 2023 CFL Draft, he has a long way to go before he can claim the title of the best football player in his family. That’s simply the price you pay for being the grandson of Saskatchewan Roughriders’ legend Alan Ford.

“When I was younger, I walked into his house and saw this picture of him catching a touchdown at old Mosaic. I said, ‘Grandpa, what’s this?’ And then he showed me his big jersey framed up and his old little helmet,” the younger Ford recalled in an interview with 3DownNation. “I think that’s when I kind of realized he’s a big deal.”

Big deal might be an understatement. Grandpa Ford played 12 seasons with Riders from 1965 until 1976, performing just about every duty under the prairie sun.

He rumbled in the same backfield as George Reed, carrying 230 times for 1,086 yards and eight touchdowns. He caught 261 passes for 3,850 yards and 14 touchdowns as a receiver, including hauling in a major from Ron Lancaster in the team’s 1966 Grey Cup victory. He amassed 90 kick returns for 1,935 yards, snagged four interceptions in one season as a defensive back in 1970, and still sits second in team history with 41,880 punting yards, plus 23 singles.

They didn’t call Alan Ford “Mr. Versatile” for nothing.

That extended beyond his playing career, as Ford returned to the team as an assistant coach in 1979 and then again as assistant general manager in 1985. He was promoted to general manager in 1989, winning the team’s second Grey Cup that season and serving in the role until 1999.

Jaxon wasn’t born until the year after his grandfather left the organization and his brief stint as Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ interim GM in 2003 is barely a blip in his memory. Nevertheless, having a family member with some name recognition had its perk, allowing him to start his own football journey a little early.

“I actually went to the Rams camp in Regina when I was nine and I was about three years too young to go to it,” Ford said with a smile. “My grandpa went to the front office and he got me in that camp. That was my first experience in tackle football and I got smacked around a little bit, but that’s when I knew I really loved it.”

“That’s also when I learned one of the best things that my grandpa taught me, which was to never let them know you’re hurt.”

Photo courtesy: Ted Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

It wasn’t the last piece of advice that grandpa would provide throughout his childhood. After Jaxon’s father Rob passed away following an accident when he was just ten years old, the two grew especially close and sport served as an important connection. Whether it was hockey or football, he was always there with a helpful hint or unique insight.

As he now prepares to follow him into the CFL, the 79-year-old has been a steadying influence for his grandson.

“He gave me one simple thing: just be calm and enjoy it,” Ford said of the draft process. “You only get to do it once and have fun. At the end of the day, it’s just football.”

The six-foot, 199-pound defender has built a substantial reputation of his own while wearing his grandfather’s old number 21 at the University of Regina. As a four-year starter in the secondary, he has racked up 130 total tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, five interceptions, 14 pass breakups, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, a blocked kick, and a touchdown.

While he played halfback early in his tenure with the Rams, Ford has since blossomed into an elite safety. Unlike his position-less inspiration, that’s the spot he intends to stick to for the entirety of his pro career.

“I just love the freedom of it. You’re in the middle, you’re seeing everything and that’s when that football intelligence comes in handy,” he said. “Not jumping those deep ins and seeing where the posts are coming from, reading the quarterback’s eyes and making a play.”

Ford credits relentless film study for his consistent production in college and can often be found leading the Rams’ defensive back meetings or breaking down receiver tendencies on his own time. He looks like a polished product at the position, part of the reason why he was named a Canada West all-star and second-team All-Canadian in 2022.

For scouts, he checks all the boxes required to be an elite prospect at the position. The tape shows an aggressive and instinctive player with starting potential in the middle of the defence. The testing numbers at the CFL Combine confirm he has the athleticism to match reach projection — with explosive jumps of 36 inches in the vertical and nine feet, 11 5/8 inches in the broad, a respectable 40-yard dash time of 4.68-seconds, and elite change of direction numbers.

Most importantly, Ford has shown the same aptitude for special teams as he has for defence, perhaps tapping into that genetic predisposition to versatility.

“If you watch my film this year on specials, I had quite a  good year of recovering onside kicks. I had a touchdown too, thanks to Ryder Varga’s block,” he said knowingly, hyping up the area where he will need to make a CFL roster. “I think that’s a big strength, for sure.”

With his ability to impact a roster immediately in that capacity and his significant long-term upside, Ford is expected to hear his name called early on May 2. He landed at the backend of the third round in John Hodge’s first mock draft but should see his stock rise after the Combine.

Born and raised in Regina with deep family ties to the organization, Ford can’t deny that the Riders still hold a special place in his heart. Following in his grandfather’s footsteps with the team that inducted him into the Plaza of Honour would be nice, but he isn’t putting too much stock into the possibility.

“It’d be pretty cool but I’m not expecting it,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who I get drafted by. I just want to go to a team that needs a player like me.”

He can also return to school for a fifth year if it is deemed valuable to his development, with one-year remaining to complete his business degree. He plans to become an accountant after retiring from football but won’t rule out a future in the front office, the other tentpole of the Ford family business.

“If the opportunity presents itself, why not?” he grinned.

Though his grandfather’s legacy precedes him, CFL general managers know what Ford brings to an organization is unique to him. Whether they are drafting an impact defender or even their future successor, that pick will be all about the future, not the past.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.