Ford shines for Bentley special teams

Punt and pin

Trying to convince football fans that a punter can win a game is a hard sell. Punters ev­erywhere should be hiring Am­herst native Tyler Ford as their national pitch man.

The Bentley University mar­keting major (minor in comput­er information systems) owns all of Bentley’s punting records, including career average. With only one game remaining in his final collegiate season, the se­nior’s mark of 41.4 yards per punt is 2.9 yards better than the previous best (38.5 by John White from 2005-08).

He padded that average on Oct. 15 with a career-long, 73- yard, first-quarter punt, as the Falcons spoiled American In­ternational College’s Home­coming, 5-3, in Northeast-10 Conference action at Abdow Field in Springfield, Mass.

Bentley, following its first win at AIC since 2004, now sit 5-5 overall and 5-4 in confer­ence play. The Falcons wrap up the season Saturday against Stonehill at home, beginning at noon.

What proved to be the mar­gin of victory for the Falcons against AIC came with 2:50 left in the first half courtesy of a Ford punt that pinned the Yel­low Jackets on their own 10. A 1-yard loss and a false start setting the stage for the Falcons’ defense. A sack of AIC’s quarterpenalty pushed AIC back to the 4, back for a safety gave Bentley a 2-0 lead. ­

Bentley receivers coach and special teams coordinator Adam Griggs has been impressed with the former Souhegan High School star from Day 1.

"He takes pride in backing the op­position up," said Griggs, who grad­uated from Alvirne High School in 2002 before playing and now coach­ing at Bentley. "When a punter is an eraser for any mistakes we make, that’s a great asset to have on your sideline."

Ford was a major factor for Bent­ley in the low-scoring win. He was called upon to punt 12 times, aver­aging 44.9 yards, placing four of his 12 punts inside the 20, and setting the school record for longest punt with that 73-yarder. He held the previous mark at 68.

"A big part of our game plan is placing the ball where we want as a team," Ford said. "We’re a comple­mentary-style team. We pick each other up. If the offense isn’t able to get anything going for a stretch, the special teams needs to come through and set up the defense to make something happen.

"Me being able to make their job easier is what I’m out there for. Pin­ning AIC back on that early punt and the D capitalizing on it – that was our special teams and defense doing their jobs."

This is exactly what Bentley’s coaching staff expected when nam­ing Ford the starting punter during his freshman season. After all, he was coming off a summer in which he booted a 70-yarder during the CHaD New Hampshire East/West All-Star Game.

"It’s one thing to look at his leg and be in awe of how far he kicks the ball," Griggs said. "But his game is about more than just kicking the ball as far as he can. He’s saved us numerous times over the years be­cause he’s an athlete. He’s made highlight-reel plays – leaping and snatching an errant snap with one hand, coming down with the ball, and then still getting off a punt that pins our opponent back."

It wasn’t as if Ford was recruited as a punter. He entered Bentley expecting to be in the Falcons’ de­fensive-back rotation. With nobody else on the roster able to punt, the position was his to fill.

"It was bittersweet for me at first," Ford said. "I went into that first camp expecting to challenge for a spot at cornerback. Then to be told I was getting a starting position – but as the punter where I’d only be getting on the field four to 10 times a game – was bittersweet. In the beginning it was a roller-coast­er ride for sure."

It’s been somewhat of a roller coaster every season. The Falcons have been through four long snap­pers with the steadying force of Ford standing 13-15 yards behind center the whole time.

He’s adjusted well with the differ­ent styles. Some snapping faster than others but not as direct, another tak­ing longer to get the ball to him but right on the mark. This fall, he has a good rapport with junior backup QB/ long snapper Joe Slattery.

"We’re good friends," Ford said. "He filled in last year during an in­jury, and he held on to the spot. We have a really good connection and it’s worked well for both of us."

It certainly has. Through 10 games this season, Ford has punted the ball 57 times, averaging 44.2 yards per punt for a total of 2,518 yards, including that long of 73 versus AIC. He’s pinned the opposition inside the 20-yard line 12 times, forced five fair catches due to his hang time, recorded eight touchbacks.

"Tyler is unreal with the direc­tional game," Griggs said. "He also knows how to adjust to the different styles we use – rolling out, rugby or straight up."

Although his collegiate career is winding down, Ford is keeping an eye on the NFL.

"I’m hoping to get my name out there for a possible tryout," he said. "If there’s any chance to keep play­ing football after I graduate, I’ll give it my best shot."