Men’s Football News

(Article courtesy: University of Waterloo Athletics)

Tre Ford is not an athlete.

He's a lot of other things – he's the greatest quarterback in UWaterloo football history, the most unstoppable force in U SPORTS, and one of the most eye-popping talents ever to be seen on a university football field in this country. As of this week, he's also a two-time OUA MVP, as Ford claimed his second career most valuable player award for his incredible 2021 season. In six games this year, he led the league in passing yards (1465) and touchdowns (10), while also finishing third in rushing yards (629) and tied for fourth in rushing touchdowns (3).

The numbers don't begin to tell Ford's story, though. Even words in the English language seem insufficient; sportswriter superlatives like incredible, or awesome, or dominant have long been replaced with guffaws, or silent dropped jaws, or just plain manic giggling. Tre Ford is a true renaissance man: he's a magician when he's eluding or hurdling tackles, he's an artist when he's reading and then freezing both linebackers on an option play before running to the house, and he's a surgeon when he's pulling a defender on a pump fake before hitting a game-winning bomb against a crosstown rival.

But Tre Ford is not an athlete.

Not in football jargon, anyway. In football, the word athlete is often applied to an explosive player who might not have a traditional position. And far too often, the athlete tag is applied to Black quarterbacks like Tre Ford.

The language is coded, but virtually every Black quarterback hears the questions from coaches, recruiters, and scouts: Can he read defenses? Can he make all the throws, or will he just rely on his feet? Can he command leadership in the huddle? The historical reality is that these answers are already predetermined before a snap is ever taken – a pair of 2017 studies from the University of Colorado concluded that racial stereotyping in quarterbacks is as pervasive as ever. "A lot of times," said coach Darrell Adams, Waterloo's defensive and recruiting coordinator, "Black quarterbacks aren't given the chance to play the position at all."

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It happens time and time again: a promising young Black quarterback has his career trajectory altered by the label of athlete or mobile quarterback or some other negative deviation from the norm. In football circles, the word athlete is a tag, often used to exploit ability and deny opportunity.

So when he and his superstar twin brother Tyrell were being recruited out of A.N. Myer secondary school in Niagara Falls, that's all Tre wanted: an opportunity to play quarterback, and to prove that he was more than just an athlete. While some higher-profile programs wanted to convert Tre to a different position, Waterloo head coach Chris Bertoia was ready to provide a chance to lead the offense as a quarterback.

"Not once did we refer to Tre as an athlete," said Bertoia. "We knew he was a quarterback. I told him he would be a quarterback for us, and that he and Tyrell were going to turn our program around."

Despite coming off back-to-back winless seasons, Bertoia landed the Ford brothers in what was considered a masterclass in recruiting. But the pitch was quite straightforward – Waterloo offered an opportunity for the brothers to play together, and an opportunity for Tre to play quarterback.

"It was a big part of my decision. I wanted to play quarterback, and Bert was willing to give me that opportunity."

Tre Ford

Once he arrived on campus in 2017, Ford was groomed like any other potential quarterback. Splitting reps with incumbent starter Lucas McConnell, Ford learned the offense, gained valuable experience, and gave the league a preview of what was to come – he was named the OUA rookie of the year, in what turned out to be the first of multiple individual accolades.

Despite his obvious abilities, the coded whispers persisted as Ford entered his second year. Can he be the full-time starter? Can he become more of a pocket passer? These questions are always unwarranted, but nonetheless, Ford's answers were swift and resounding. First, he went 25-28 for 463 yards and six (yes, six) passing touchdowns in week one against Windsor. Then, he put up a school-record 472 yards through the air and 86 more on the ground in an earth-shattering victory over Laurier. All the while, he tossed two interceptions all season – and one was a nothing-to-lose hail-mary heave at the end of the half against Carleton.

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When the dust settled on 2018, Ford had authored perhaps the greatest season of football in the history of university sport: An OUA-record 74.1% completion rate, 2822 yards passing, 27 passing touchdowns, 641 rushing yards, and his first MVP award. Tre Ford was not only a quarterback, he was the best quarterback.

In 2019, Ford masterfully helmed the juggernaut Waterloo offense, earning his first career All-Canadian selection – and leading Waterloo to its first playoff victory in two decades. Then, in his final collegiate season in 2021, Ford claimed his latest MVP award by leading the league in passing yards and touchdowns, while averaging more than 100 yards per game on the ground. He will leave Waterloo as the program's all-time leader in passing yards (7118) and passing touchdowns (56), while sitting fourth on the Warriors' all-time rushing list, with 2621 yards.

As prophesized by Bertoia, Tre and Tyrell helped lead a total turnaround of the Warriors football program: Waterloo won a total of 12 games in the decade between 2007 and 2016, before winning 15 times in four seasons with the Fords. And, while Tyrell might not have grabbed headlines, both Fords left an indelible mark on Warriors football.

"They made the decision to come to school together. Tyrell also maximized his opportunity to change the program, on the defensive side of the ball, and on special teams."

Darrell Adams - Waterloo defensive coordinator

Their impact is also league-wide, as Tyrell became both an All-Canadian defensive back, and the most dangerous punt-returner in the conference. And for Tre, his legacy in the OUA was further solidified with this week's MVP announcement: he now joins Ben Chapdelaine as the only players in OUA history to win a rookie of the year award and two MVPs.

Beyond the stats and awards though, Ford's biggest impact might be the blueprint that his career formed – a guideline for the next generation of young Black quarterbacks who might be labelled as athletes. Ford wrote the blueprint himself, on game film, week after week – with every defensive read, with every rollout rocket downfield, and with every would-be tackler he left behind. In destroying the stereotype, he made himself the prototype. Tre Ford is not an athlete, but a quarterback who is also athletic.    

"I definitely think it could open up opportunities," said Ford of his decorated career. "Hopefully it can lead to other Black quarterbacks being able to play quarterback, and to not be seen as an athlete."

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"Coaches will say 'he was generational,' or 'he was a once-in-a-lifetime talent'" added Adams, who co-founded The Alliance at the UWaterloo department of Athletics and Recreation. "That's the historical stigma of successful Black quarterbacks. I watched Tre develop as a pocket passer and a dual-threat quarterback because of his passion, his work ethic, and, most importantly, the opportunity he was given. Objectively, you can't deny what he did as a quarterback. This isn't a one-off; he's a player that got an opportunity and maximized it. Recruiters, coaches, and decision-makers must acknowledge this, and give those same opportunities to other Black quarterbacks. Chuck Ealey, Damon Allen, and Warren Moon were trailblazers at the pro level. Hopefully, Tre is recognized as the trailblazer at the U SPORTS level."

In 2022, Ford will earn something more valuable than any league MVP award – he'll graduate with his degree in Recreation and Leisure, before turning his attention to the professional ranks on both sides of the border. The harsh reality, though, is that the cycle of coded language will start over again: can he be the face of the franchise? Should we install a wildcat package for him? Can we line him up in the slot? It's a line of questioning that his white counterparts won't have to face.

"I'm advocating for Tre to be a quarterback in the CFL or the NFL, and he needs and deserves an opportunity. Everybody deserves someone to believe in them. I know Tre appreciates my belief in him, but Tre also strongly believes in himself, and that's his greatest attribute."

Chris Bertoia - Waterloo Head Coach

"At the next level, that's all I want – an opportunity to play quarterback," Ford added. "If I have that opportunity and I don't perform as a quarterback, and they want me to change positions, I understand that. But I want the opportunity to prove myself as a quarterback."

Tre Ford has proven himself to be more than an athlete. And in doing so, he leaves behind his blueprint – not only for other Black quarterbacks, but for those in positions of power, who can provide opportunities for Black quarterbacks to prove that they're more than just athletes.

Because Tre Ford is not an athlete – he's a quarterback.


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Adam McGuire is a freelance writer and play-by-play broadcaster for the University of Waterloo’s Department of Athletics and Recreation. He began writing about the Warriors in 2003 as the sports editor of Imprint, the campus newspaper and has been covering UWaterloo athletics in various capacities ever since.