Tre Ford may have won the Hec Crighton, Canada’s highest individual honour in University football, but the battle is just beginning.
Ford will look to prove himself at the professional level—a tough feat for any quarterback, but as a person of colour, there are more hoops to jump through than many of his counterparts.
As a black quarterback, Ford has always had to fight for what’s rightfully his. Too many times, Black quarterbacks are often given the tag 'athlete' when they can do more than one thing well. Black quarterbacks who can both run and throw the football often get pigeonholed into a seemingly innocuous label of ‘athlete’.
While on its surface, being called an ‘athlete’ seems like a good thing, but similar to broader society, for too many years, this has been an excuse to perpetuate a double standard.
“Obviously I’m black and I’m also very fast, so people (label) me as an athlete and think, ‘he can flip over and play another position,” said Ford. “I truly believe I’m a quarterback and I feel like if any team gives me a shot, they’ll see that I am a quarterback and not just a receiver and an athlete.”
Ford showed why he’s not just an athlete this past season as Waterloo’s pivot. The fifth-year student-athlete was awarded the MVP of U SPORTS football in 2021 after averaging 252 yards per game.
Ford became the first Warrior to win the award in program history and a crucial part of his game is his ability to scramble and pick up big yardage on the ground. As a dual-threat, Ford is just as likely to throw a fifty-yard bomb right on the numbers or torch opposing defences with his legs.
In 2021, the recreation and leisure major also ranked third in the nation in regular-season rushing yards with 629, averaging over 100 yards per game as a quarterback.
Ford’s accomplishments have made him a trailblazer, making history for the University of Waterloo, but more importantly, Ford became the first black quarterback to be awarded the Hec Crighton Trophy.
“I would definitely like to see some more black quarterbacks at the university level and get a chance in U SPORTS,” said Ford. “There were times when I was playing back in high school where even if I was outperforming a quarterback, he was still getting looks to be recruited as a quarterback and they said ‘Tre can definitely play receiver at the next level’, or ‘he can play running back’.
Black quarterbacks tend to deal with heightened criticism at the quarterback position. Often called into question is whether or not they can make the big throws, or if they’ll just rely on their athleticism and scramble.
One of the reasons Ford chose Waterloo was because he was supported as a quarterback, not typecasted into being a receiver because of his speed, as was the case with some of the higher-profile programs.
“Some schools talked to me about switching positions, but I was fortunate enough that Bert gave me an opportunity,” said Ford.
Luckily for Ford, he had a supportive cast of coaches that gave him the opportunity to succeed in a leadership position.
"Not once did we refer to Tre as an athlete," said Waterloo head coach Chris Bertoia. "We knew he was a quarterback. I told him he would be a quarterback for us, and that he and Tyrell (his brother) were going to turn our program around."
While Ford’s on-field accomplishments have shown a glimpse of societal progression, there’s more work to be done both on and off the field.
Corey Grant, the offensive coordinator, and newly-appointed Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism Lead at the University of McMaster Athletic Department and, believes that Ford’s nod for the Hec Crighton is both a sign of progress and indicative of a lack of inclusivity within the sport.
“Tre Ford is a sign of what we can be in that position for a black quarterback,” said Grant. That’s giving kids an opportunity and not just pigeonholing them… Given the right opportunity and support, they can strive at all positions and especially the quarterback position and he is a great representative of what the future can hold for black and racialized quarterbacks.”
Someone always has to be the first. But at the same time, questions should be raised as to why it took this long.
“This also shows that there is a lack of that inclusion at the university level. Hopefully, this can start to change the minds of coaches as they’re recruiting quarterbacks. I’m glad that when Tre was recruited he said: ‘No, I don’t want to play another position, I’m a quarterback.’ He’s now setting the table for everybody else.”
Although Ford has shown what can be done with the right support, Grant’s unique position as both an authority figure on the field and a liaison of support and inclusivity within the community gives him a voice to speak for those who previously go unheard.
“We need someone to speak up and support our racialized student-athletes but also to have that voice that people will listen to,” said Grant, the two-time Grey Cup champion. “They need someone to go to, someone that is in their corner, someone that looks like them, and someone who has been what they’ve been through.”
Ford was given an opportunity and he made the most of it.
But the job doesn’t end here.
Bringing in different perspectives is more important now than ever according to Grant.
“If we always have the same voices and perspectives in our coaching rooms, we’re going to stay stagnant. With more women and more diversity in these locker rooms, we’ll help these young men understand how to relate to a diverse pool of individuals and become better leaders of tomorrow,”.
Grant will join the Vanier Cup broadcast at halftime to further discussion of inclusivity with U SPORTS football.
The Scotiabank Vanier Cup, presented by Levio between the Saskatchewan Huskies and Western Mustangs is televised live on CBC TV. The broadcast is also available online through CBCSports.ca and CBC Gem, and the CBC Sports App. The French broadcast will be available on TVASports.