NORMAN — Keith Ford I wasn't sure what to make of the text message that came to his phone Aug. 5.
“It's on now,” the message said.
When the link to an Instagram video came across moments later, Ford finally understood.
That day, Oklahoma's first in pads, was when Ford's son, Keith Ford II, started to make his mark in Norman.
Running the Oklahoma Drill, Sooners defensive lineman Jordan Phillips came off a block by Dionte Savage just in time to meet Ford head on.
The freshman running back lowered his head into Phillips' shoulders and ran right through the 6-foot-6, 324-pounder, driving Phillips to his back.
Since, Ford has shown his physical style of play to Sooners' opponents, including on six carries for 34 yards against Texas.
Ford's physical play started taking shape at the Kid's Heaven day care center in Havelock, N.C., where he lived while his father, a Marine, was stationed in the area.
“They used to play this game where one of the kids would have the football,” Ford I said. “It was sort of like rugby.”
One day, his son came home a bit banged up after one of the games.
“They said if Keith's hurt a little bit, everybody else had to have been hurt too,” Ford's father said. “Keith was so rough. There's just something about when he puts the ball in his hands.”
Ford smiled this week when he thought back to the Oklahoma Drill play, which quickly went viral after being posted online.
It was a big moment for the running back who seemed to be in an uphill battle for playing time on a team with three seniors — Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch — at the position.
After not carrying the ball against Notre Dame and TCU, Ford returned to the rotation last week against Texas, showing a physical presence with and without the ball in the Sooners' loss to the Longhorns.
After not playing much for two games, Ford was surprised when he received the game plan for the Texas game and saw his role was going to be expanded.
“He's a guy that needs to continue to touch the football,” Sooners co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “He has a chance to make a lot of explosive plays for us.”
Earlier this season, Sooners coach Bob Stoops compared his physical style to that of Adrian Peterson.
But just a day before Ford bowled over Phillips, he was struggling.
“I don't know, there are so many running backs,” Ford told his father. “I don't know if I'm gonna be able to play this year.”
His father encouraged his son, but emphasized that it wouldn't be easy.
“Hey, you have to earn respect,” Ford I told his son.
Less than 24 hours later, Ford had earned that respect.
Ford was a bit down after not getting carries against Notre Dame, but his attitude was much more positive than earlier in the season.
“I knew I had three seniors in front of me,” Ford said. “They're great players. Just coming in, I knew it was going to be a struggle for me to play early. I just kept working and kept grinding. Then my chance came. I've been patient.”
Still, several Sooners and Notre Dame fans he ran into after the game gave him a boost.
“Some of the fans came up to Keith and said, ‘Just be patient, you'll be OK son,'” the elder Ford said. “Even the Notre Dame fans that we know said it's only a matter of time. Part of the reason we chose Oklahoma was because of the community and just the spirit and the culture.”
Ford did plenty of good against Texas, including lowering his head to and delivering a blow to Texas' Adrian Phillips on his first carry of the second half. But he also fumbled later during the drive, though the ball went out of bounds.
“He's got to show he can take care of the football,” Stoops said.
Still, Ford has gone from needing to give Stoops and Heupel a reason to get him the ball over Clay, Finch and Williams to making the coaches figure out how they can work him into the rotation.
“We need to keep trying to give Keith more snaps,” Stoops said.