He’s moved his team into playoff contention — barely — but Tre Ford has provided the Edmonton Elks and their beleaguered fans with something much more tangible: Hope for the future.
The six-foot-one, 185-pound quarterback from Niagara Falls, Ont., has led Edmonton (4-11) to wins in four-of-seven games since becoming the starter The Elks remain playoff longshots, but their resurgence under Ford has tempered the pessimism and gloom that resulted from their miserable 22-game home losing streak and 0-9 start.
“It was tough, I’m not even going to lie,” Ford said in a telephone interview during Edmonton’s bye week. “Obviously we didn’t start how we wanted to and personally it didn’t start how I wanted it to … but things work out how they work out.
“I think the time I did step in was a good time for me …we’re not where we need to be exactly but we’re definitely taking steps in the right direction.”
Edmonton is tied for fourth in the West Division with Calgary (4-9), trailing third-place Saskatchewan (6-8). The Riders visit the B.C. Lions (10-4) on Friday night while the Stampeders face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (6-8) at Tim Hortons Field on Saturday night.
Wins by Saskatchewan and Hamilton would eliminate Edmonton from playoff contention.
Edmonton resumes play Oct. 6 in Toronto. Ford said regardless of the club’s playoff situation, its late-season goal will remain the same.
“For me, personally, I’m trying to win these next three games no matter what,” Ford said. “You must always have the mindset to win … and try to execute at a high level.”
Ford, 25, has done that since becoming Edmonton’s starter.
Ford has completed 101-of-144 passes (70.1 per cent) for 1,345 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. He has also run 52 times for 514 yards (9.9-yard average) and three touchdowns.
His completion percentage is the best among CFL starters and his 2.25 touchdown/interception ratio is tied with Saskatchewan’s Jake Dolegala for tops. Impressive, considering Ford began the season behind American quarterbacks Taylor Cornelius and Jarret Doege and didn’t make his first start of the year until Aug. 10 versus Winnipeg.
Edmonton was 0-8 (seven starts by Cornelius, one by Doege) when Ford got the nod. He led the Elks to a 22-0 lead against Winnipeg before the Bombers rallied for a 38-29 victory.
Ford guided Edmonton to its first win, a 24-10 decision in Hamilton on Aug. 17. The next week, he led the Elks past Ottawa 30-20 at Commonwealth Stadium, their first home victory since Oct. 12, 2019.
“I never lost confidence, I knew what I was capable of,” Ford said. “I was at a point where I was waiting for my opportunity and (thought) maybe it wasn’t coming this year … but I was definitely going to be ready to seize the moment when it came.”
Edmonton selected Ford, Canadian university football’s top player in 2021 at Waterloo, in the first round, eighth overall, of the 2022 CFL draft. He won his first pro start, a 29-25 decision in Hamilton that year before suffering a shoulder injury the following week.
Ford returned late in the year behind Cornelius before conducting off-season workouts for the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders and New England Patriots.
Ford has had help in transforming Edmonton’s offence.
Running back Kevin Brown is second in CFL rushing (1,022 yards, four TDs) while Eugene Lewis — the East Division’s outstanding player last season — anchors a solid receiving corps.
Ford threw for a career-high 317 yards against Ottawa, the only game he’s had over 200 passing yards this year. But Jarious Jackson, Edmonton’s offensive co-ordinator/quarterbacks coach, said that’s by design.
“I’m not asking him to throw the ball 30-40 times because that’s not our game,” Jackson said. “Our objective is to stay on the field, score points and keep the other offence off the field and hopefully our defence can create two-and-outs and we can go from there.
“In today’s game, when you watch Patrick Mahomes and all these different guys, they’re not standing in the pocket like the old-school quarterbacks, they’re moving around. They’re still playing within the system yet creating plays, because the defence is at a disadvantage with the length of time it must cover. That’s an extension of Tre’s game that not many guys can do.”
For Ford, self-improvement is never-ending.
“I’m always looking at what I could do better,” he said. “There could be a play where I make two guys miss and a third tackles me and I’ll be like, ‘Man, I should’ve made that guy miss.’
“It’s tough to chase perfection, especially in football because no one is ever perfect. But it’s what everybody chases.”
A fact not lost upon Jackson.
“I always say you can’t measure heart,” he said. “You want someone with heart and the will to win and I feel Tre has both traits.
“There are certain things about Tre that when you understand him as a person, you understand him as a player.”
Waterloo head coach Chris Bertoia knows that well.
“He’s a special young man,” Bertoia said. “Tre doesn’t get too high or low, he’s pretty steady in his approach but when he makes a mistake he owns it.
“He wants to be perfect but understands nobody’s perfect. He’s someone who enjoys the game for all the right reasons. Not only do I think Tre’s the face of Edmonton, I believe he’s the future face of the CFL.”
While Ford loves football, family has become a top priority for the married father of a nine-and-a-half month old daughter.
“I love football with all my heart, I wish I could play it for another 80 years,” he said. “But now that I have a daughter, it puts things into perspective.
“My daughter is a Mommy’s girl, for sure. I’ve tried to make her a Daddy’s girl but I’m always on the move and she spends so much time with her mom that she’s really attached to her. But the off-season is coming …”
Ford’s emergence marks a second straight year that a Canadian quarterback has risen to prominence in the CFL. Victoria’s Nathan Rourke was the league’s top Canuck last season following a stellar campaign with B.C. before signing with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, where he remains on the practice roster.
Like Rourke patiently said often last year, Ford sees himself as a CFL quarterback who happens to be Canadian.
“I do embrace being a Canadian quarterback, but Nathan and I have had different paths,” Ford said. “He went to the U.S. and played Division I football (at Ohio) and has had that American experience whereas I was strictly U Sports.
“I think it’s good for me to come and compete at the CFL level and continue to get better just so I can open doors for more guys who don’t get that D1 opportunity. I want to continue to show that even if you don’t get the opportunity to go D1 you can still play professional football … and go from where you are.”
Ford is under contract with Edmonton through next season. He said while a chance to play in the NFL would be the realization of a dream, he’d be just as content remaining in Canada.
“Honestly, I’m just focused on what I can do to help the Elks win,” he said. “Any decision (about NFL) I’d have to make in regards to my family, where I’m at in life and how everything is going to unfold.
“That (CFL career) definitely wouldn’t be a bad gig at all … having the opportunity to actually play and have my kids watch me and embrace it.”