Difficult Journey to Soccer Stardom
As DU advances in the NCAA Tournament, junior Kortne Ford recalls his difficult path to achieve success
The DU men’s soccer squad keeps its hot streak alive. On Sunday, Nov. 20, the team defeated the University of Nevada, Las Vegas at CIBER Field 3-0. The Pioneers now advance to play the University of Washington in the NCAA Round of 16 on Saturday, Nov. 26, at CIBER Field.
“The last year has been a year of preparation for this moment,” said head coach Jamie Franks after Sunday’s victory. “We are now unbeaten in 21 games and we feel great about the way we played tonight. I would always take my guys in knockout soccer. Their resiliency, fight and togetherness makes them a special group.”
Junior defender Kortne Ford scored the third goal of the game on a header off a free kick. For him, getting to this point meant overcoming a number of challenges.
“His story is what motivates him, and it’s what propels him,” Franks says of Ford’s challenges growing up in Kansas City. He spent the first 12 years of his life spending every other weekend with his father in a very abusive household.
“I was energetic and happy when I was with my mom,” Ford says. “When I was with my dad, I was so scared to mess up that I was a mute. I didn’t talk, and I tried to sleep as much as I could. I would just count down the hours until I could get home to my mom.”
Ford says he was beaten, locked in rooms and at times not allowed to eat. For years, he says, he didn’t know anything was wrong with this behavior because he thought all dads were this way. Ford’s father played basketball in college and in the NBA, and he expected Ford to follow in his footsteps. “He didn’t support the fact that I played soccer,” Ford says. “If I had a soccer game on the weekends I was with my dad, I didn’t go. So, I only played soccer when I was with my mom.”
Most kids who want to go pro are just looking at it because they like soccer. Ford is doing it to put food on the table and take care of him and his mom. Jamie Franks, Men's Soccer Head Coach
After fighting for nearly two years to gain full custody of Ford, his mom finally won. “We ran. My mom loved Colorado so we came here just to start over,” Ford says.
He was then 12 years old, but the challenges were not over. Shortly after moving to Greeley, his mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. The medical bills were piling up, and his mom had little money. They could only afford for Ford to play soccer for a local team, but after one year of play in Greeley, he was noticed by a coach from an Olympic development program. Subsequently, he was recruited to play for a league in south Denver.
“For two years we were driving every day two hours to practice and then two hours back, and my mom was making this drive while going through chemo,” Ford recalls. “Every ounce of money we had left went to gas money, so that I had the opportunity to grow as a soccer player.”
When Ford was 16, he was recruited to play with the Colorado Rapids Academy, a nationwide youth-development initiative organized by the U.S. Soccer Federation. It’s designed to enhance the development of the country’s top players. It wasn’t long afterward that DU came calling.
“When I stepped foot on campus I immediately fell in love with the place,” Ford says. “Not only did I fall in love with the facilities, the culture, and the guys on the team, but the Denver coaching staff was the only coaching staff to sit down and show me the system they played, where they saw me fitting into the lineup, and how they could improve my character and prepare me for success after college.”
Now, three years later, his mom has fought off cancer, and Ford is thriving on the soccer field. His focus is on a national championship for the University of Denver. After his performance this season, there’s talk of Ford possibly joining the Rapids. “Sometimes it’s a bit of added stress, because you are worried about life after college. At the end of the day, I just try to stay focused and worry about what’s best for the team,” Ford says.
Franks believes Ford is ready for whatever challenge lies ahead. “My job is to prepare kids for their next step, and he is ready for the pros,” Franks says. “Most kids who want to go pro are just looking at it because they like soccer. Ford is doing it to put food on the table and take care of him and his mom.”
Ford says his mom never misses a game, and her commitment to his passion of soccer drives his success. “I know how strong she was, and she knew that we only had each other. We had to get through it together, and because of it, our relationship is stronger today.”