GIBSONTON — East Bay coach Frank LaRosa can go on and on when speaking about Marques Ford’s best qualities as a football player.
“His work ethic is second to none,” he said. “He’s ultra competitive. He’s laser focused on winning and he’s very intelligent and cerebral. He’s a leader, he’s a high-motor guy and he’s twitchy.”
To talk to LaRosa about Ford’s abilities as a dominant defensive end would require another half hour.
One of the more highly recruited athletes in program history, Ford is coming off a 10-sack season in which he helped East Bay win its first district title in 40 years and first playoff game.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound defensive star totaled 67 tackles — 17.5 for losses — last season and has verbally committed to Tennessee, choosing the Vols over Duke and Rutgers.
Ford’s ability to change the outcome of a game was evident during last year’s Monday night district tiebreaker, in which in continuously pressured the Plant City and Strawberry Crest quarterbacks.
In addition to his ability to sack the quarterback, Ford understands his role has changed this season after the departure of several players who made last year’s playoff run possible.
“That’s a priority to me,” Ford said. “I’ve always tried to be a leader before, but I have to now.”
In the offseason, Ford said he worked on adding muscle to improve his play against the run.
“My best trait would be my pass rush,” Ford said. “They can’t put a single guy on me.”
The double teams will come for Ford, but LaRosa views it as an advantage.
“He’ll open one-on-one’s for other guys,” LaRosa said. “As long as he plays in our system, he’ll be even better.”
The Indians will be a running team by committee, led by dual-threat junior quarterback Jordan Anderson and tailbacks Bryn Nation, DJ Crutcher and Anthony Hollingshed.
The Indians’ strength on offense has been its offensive line. The team returns two of the five starters up front, both at guard with Caleb Holley and Johnny Crews, who will be joined by brothers James and Michael Beightel
The strength will be the line. Joining dominant pass rusher Marques Ford will be three-year starter Anthony Clayton, who had 12 tackles for losses last season.
Last season was one for the record books at East Bay.
The Indians won the program’s first district title in 40 years and became the first team in program history to win a playoff game. The Indians defeated Gaither in the Class 7A region quarterfinals and lost to eventual region runnner-up Sickles in the semifinals. Prior to last season, East Bay was 0-6 in the state playoffs.
Many of the players who made the 2013 season memorable, however, have graduated.
“It’s really not defending your title because it’s none of the same soldiers,” coach Frank LaRosa said. “When we lined up for spring (jamboree), there were so many new faces, it looked like a new team.”
Inexperience aside, LaRosa thinks a district title is again attainable, though he admits his team will experience growing pains along the way.
The blueprint at East Bay — dominant running and solid defense — will not change.
“I like our chances,” LaRosa said.
♦ About The Indians
Stadium: E.G. Simmons Field, 7710 Old Big Bend Road, Gibsonton
Class-District: 7A-8 (with Brandon, Durant, Plant City and Strawberry Crest)
Coach: Frank LaRosa (16-16, fourth season)
Last season: 8-4
Aug. 29: Lennard
Sept. 5: Riverview
Sept. 12: at Alonso
Sept. 19: at Spoto
Sept. 26: Wharton
Oct. 2: at Plant City
Oct. 10: at Bloomingdale
Oct. 17: Strawberry Crest
Oct. 24: Brandon
Oct. 31: at Durant