This Ford helped carry Steel Valley to a PIAA title
December 16, 2016 12:00 AM
Steel Valley's Shaun Meadows, Kaleb Hughes (55) and Paris Ford (1) celebrate after defeating Southern Columbia in the PIAA Class 2A championship Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium. Ford is among players who gets little time off before jumping into basketball season.
By Mike White / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It was in early January last year when Steel Valley football coach Rod Steele and his team got a late Christmas present. The package that showed up at Steel Valley’s door had a Paris postmark.
Paris Ford, a gifted football player, left Seton-LaSalle High School in January and transferred to Steel Valley. He moved in with his father in the Steel Valley School District.
Steel Valley already knew it had the makings of an excellent football team this season. But Ford’s talents took the Ironmen to a different level — and the Ironmen ended up on the top floor of Pennsylvania Class 2A football.
A few weeks ago, Steel Valley won a WPIAL championship for the first time in 27 years, and then won a PIAA title for the first time in school history. The Ironmen performed in a fashion never seen before in Pennsylvania. Steel Valley crushed perennial power Southern Columbia, 49-7, in the title game Saturday in Hershey. The win gave Steel Valley a 15-0 record and the Ironmen won every game by the mercy rule.
Under the rule, the clock runs continuously when a team goes ahead by 35 points or more in the second half. Since the rule was enacted in Pennsylvania in 1998, no team had ever won every game of the season by the mercy rule — until Steel Valley.
“I knew we were going to be good this year because we had athletes,” said running back DeWayne Murray. “But I didn’t think we’d be this good.”
Ford had a lot to do with being “this good.” Considered one of the best players in the state, Ford is a 6-foot-2, 190-pound bundle of athleticism, versatility and emotions. He became Steel Valley’s emotional leader. He was definitely the Ironmen’s leading receiver. And he was a terrific kick returner. And he carried the ball some on jet sweeps and gained big yardage. And he was also a terrific defensive back, returning six interceptions for touchdowns. And he was one of the team’s top tacklers. Overall, Ford scored touchdowns five different ways this season.
For sure, Steel Valley could feel the difference with Ford. But also see it. He scored two touchdowns in the PIAA title game on a 27-yard reception and a 15-yard run.
“He definitely put us on another level,” said Murray, who finished his career as the WPIAL’s sixth-leading rusher with 6,503 yards. “He had the mindset of a champion. I think he really brought the team together more.”
Najhier West, who ran for 288 yards in the PIAA title game, said, “He just makes everyone better around him.”
Steel Valley coach Rod Steele said, “I’ve never seen a player cover as much ground as [Ford].”
But Steele also echoed West’s comments.
“The thing about Paris and what he did is he did it in a way that made his teammates better,” said Steele. “That’s what the great ones do. You get better by your competition. During practice, he made his teammates have to get better.”
The next time Ford puts on a football uniform it will be the blue and gold of the Pitt Panthers. Ford made a verbal commitment to Pitt during his junior year at Seton-LaSalle. Ford easily could be the prize of Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi’s class.
Ford is undoubtedly looking forward to his days at Pitt, but he still has another high school sport to play. Ford will play basketball at Steel Valley. He is a talented basketball player, but he and his Steel Valley teammates left an everlasting impression in football.
“We put in the work,” said Ford. “Our practices were like a college team’s. Everything was competitive. Everything was hard. Everything was fast.”
And Steel Valley made blowing out teams a weekly practice.
“Nobody was really good to us,” Ford said after defeating Southern Columbia. “I give Neshannock credit. I think Neshannock could’ve stuck with [Southern Columbia]. But we’re on a different level.”
With the graduation of many key players, including Ford, Murray and quarterback Ryan Harper, it’s highly unlikely Steel Valley can dominate the same way next year. But with the return of some other key players, it is easy to see the Ironmen still as one of the top 2A teams in the state heading into the season.
One of the players back is standout sophomore linebacker Todd Hill, a starter since his freshman year. Also back is West, who opened eyes with his performance in the PIAA title game. One play even put West on national television. His jaw-dropping, 60-yard touchdown run when he broke nine tackles was ranked No. 2 on ESPN SportsCenter’s top 10 plays Saturday. The only play ranked ahead of him was a dunk by Duke basketball player Grayson Allen.
After the PIAA game, West answered reporters’ questions on the Hersheypark Stadium field near the end zone where he scored on his memorable run.
“I have another year coming,” said West, “and we’re going to try to get right back where I’m standing.”
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