By Austin Bishop
The Webster Progress-Times
An area optometrist with a unique connection to Ole Miss legend Archie Manning is set to be inducted into the Mississippi Delta Community College Hall of Fame next month.
Reagan Ford, who resides with his wife Linda in Choctaw County and practices at his clinic in Starkville, was an All-American football player at Mississippi Delta in the 1960s. But as a high school student in Drew, he became a life-long friend with Manning. They played high school football together and in baseball Manning was a shortstop and pitcher and Ford was his catcher.
And while many know of Manning’s exploits on the football field, Ford can give a first-hand account of how good he was on the baseball diamond.
“He was a really, really good shortstop,” he said. “But he was also a good pitcher and I was his catcher. As he got older he got a little gangly looking but he could really throw that ball.”
“I have two football helmets in my house,” Ford said. “One is one of Archie’s (Ole Miss) and the other is one of Lee’s (State). And they are both signed.” Lee Ford, Reagan and Linda’s son, was a starting center at Mississippi State under Jackie Sherrill. He also played two years for Rockey Felker.
While a series of concussions may have cut short Reagan Ford’s football career, it didn’t end his legacy.
Fourth-six years after graduating from what was then Mississippi Delta Junior College, Ford will be inducted into the MDCC Sports Hall of Fame on April 12 at 5 p.m. at the J.T. Hall Coliseum on the school’s campus in Moorhead.
“It really was a surprise,” Ford said of getting the call that he was being inducted into Mississippi Delta’s Hall of Fame. “That’s been more than 40 years ago. That’s a long, long time.”
Ford, who was a mere 155 pounds during his junior college days, made All-State two years at Mississippi Delta and was an All-American his sophomore (1967) season.
“I was’t very big, but they would move me up to linebacker when they needed to,” he said. “You mostly were there to stop the run, they didn’t pass the ball like they do now.”
It was Ford’s penchant for hard hits that may have cut his career short. “I had about four concussions and the last one was in the all-star game. I also had a pinched nerve in my neck.”
He said he had a few inquiries about possibly playing on the next level, but decided to pack it in.
He also played catcher for the Mississippi Delta baseball team, but said once his football playing carer was over, he decided to quit baseball as well.
“I played baseball, but football was my love,” he said.
After graduating from Delta State University and coaching for a couple years at North Sunflower Academy, Ford decided to pursue optometry. After gaining his degree he moved to the Starkville area, where he, his wife and four children became big Mississippi State fans. In fact their son Lee played center for the Bulldogs during the early stages of the Jackie Sherrill era.
Ford said one of the great memories he had of playing at Mississippi Delta was that he finally got a chance to play on a winning team.
“We really didn’t win much at Drew,” Ford said. “We didn’t have a lot of players and we kept getting injuries. One year we started with 27 and ended up with 17. We played in the Delta Valley Conference with teams like Grenada and Batesville.”
When he got to Moorhead he found himself on the team with a lot of other guys from small schools who had gone through similar situations.
“Our first year we won five games, which was more than we lost, but the next year we went 7-3 and lost those three games by a total of 13 points,” he said. “We were known as one of the best defensive teams around. We were just a real close-knit bunch.”
Ford is one of four who will be inducted into the MDCC Sports HOF on April 12. He will be joined by basketball, tennis and track standout Pat Hare and former MDCC and professional baseball players Kevin Rogers and Michael DeJean. Also on that night Bethe Williams Becker will be the recipient of the Jimmy Bellipanni Distinguished Trojan award.
Tickets for the banquet are available at $20 per person and reservations can be made by calling 662-246-6478 or 662-246-6471. The deadline is April 4 and reservations are required.
Ford said he is looking forward to going back to the Moorhead campus and visiting with friends and family. He will be joined by his wife Linda and children Shirlianne Ford Stirewalt, Huston Ford, Ginny Ford and Lee Ford.