March 22, 2024

2023 Combine was a time to shine for Roughriders’ Jaxon Ford

Time can elapse at a glacial pace when you are hoping to run your fastest.

That is the recollection of Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive back Jaxon Ford, who could feel each second tick by at certain points in the 2023 CFL Combine.

“I think I was more nervous than anything for the 40-yard dash,” Ford recalls in an interview that coincides with this year’s Combine in Winnipeg. “That’s a big tell, especially for a defensive back.

“If you run anything above a 4.7, they might pass by your name, so I knew it was really important that I got under that — and luckily I did.

“I was more nervous for the drills than the actual one-on-ones and football stuff. As soon as you put your helmet on and you strap up, you just lock in and you’re having fun playing football.

“But when you’re getting ready for a 40-yard dash or a shuttle, you look up and there’s 15 coaches looking at you and all the GMs. Everyone’s got a stopwatch and they’re timing you. It’s pretty nerve-racking.”

Ford, a graduate of the University of Regina Rams, ended up covering 40 yards in 4.68 seconds at the 2023 Combine in Edmonton. In training, he had been in the low 4.6s.

In 2023, the Combine was expanded to include one-on-one drills and the installation of offensive and defensive schemes by CFL coaches.

That format, which is also in effect this year, worked to Ford’s benefit.

“I remember I had a really, really good play,” he says. “I think it was Day 2 of the practices when I made an interception over the middle. We were in Cover-2 and I just jumped a dig route.

“It felt great. I don’t want to say it put me on the map, but it definitely boosted my stock, for sure.

“I think my agility drills helped, too. When I went for my interviews, a lot of the guys said they were really surprised by how quick and athletic I was.”

The interview process can be rather unsettling, as CFL Draft hopefuls are quizzed by representatives of the nine teams.

“It’s intense,” Ford says with a laugh. “You walk in and there’s 10 dudes in there, all looking at you.

“In one of the rooms, there was only two guys, so it was a little bit less stressful. They had a videotape and they made you draw a play. I really liked that part.

“I went into one room and there were 15 guys in there. I shook all their hands and sat on a couch and then they all grilled me with questions left and right — questions here, questions there.

“Confidence is definitely key for those. It’s important to be confident with your answers, without fibbing or without lying, and letting it all hang out there.”

One question in particular stands out.

“The Head Coach asked me, ‘If we were to draft you, whose spot are you taking? And we need a name,’ ” Ford says. “They put me on the spot.

“I had watched the CFL a lot so I knew a lot of names from every team, but that one threw me off, for sure.

“I think, more than anything, a question like that is designed to make you feel uncomfortable. They want to see how you react.

“They want to see if you respond confidently and say, ‘I’m going to take this guy’s spot,’ or you could say, ‘That’s not my job to decide. I’m going to try my best and it’s your job to decide if you want to cut that player.’ ”

And what was his answer?

“I said a player,” Ford says with a laugh.

Ford clearly made the cut at the Combine, as evidenced by the fact that he was chosen by Saskatchewan early in the second round, with the 11th overall pick.

“The vibe in the Riders’ interview was really good, for sure,” Ford says. “The interview was pretty chill. They were asking me about how the Combine went.

“They didn’t give me any hints about whether they were going to take me, but it was really good. I felt comfortable.”

All things considered, the Combine was beneficial.

“It definitely helped a player like me, for sure,” Ford says. “I really enjoyed the format, with the practices, and it also gave you that sneak peek into what CFL coaching is actually like, because the Defensive Co-ordinator and the positional coaches are all CFL guys.

“I just think that, overall, it was a great experience — being there with the best of the best in Canada and showcasing your abilities.

“It was a really proud moment for me and my family and I was really happy to be drafted 11th overall and be the second DB off the board.”