‘Built Ford Tough’: Kenny Ford to Enter WNC Hall

Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Black Mountain – Legendary Owen Warhorse football head coach Kenny Ford will enter the WNC Sports Hall of Fame, getting honored for his fierce motivation and winning tradition.

“Personally, it’s really something I always worked for” beyond paramount team goals, Ford said of his upcoming Hall of Fame plaque, in an interview with The Tribune Sunday.

Ford, one of three chosen for the Hall in 2020, is the sole football head coach to win at least 200 games at the same Buncombe County public high school. The “D” in Charles D. Owen High School stood for Dynamite as Ford won 230 games in 1986-2014. He won 14 conference crowns — five in a row, in 2002-06 — and went 29-18 in playoffs.

Ford crafted aggressive squads to play smash-mouth football. His power I ball control offense hinged on unbalanced sets, to “get more people on that side than (defenders) got,” he said. Owen crammed runners “into a phone booth” up the gut to the end zone. His sure-tackling defenders blitzed with “sic ‘em!” doggedness.

Ford is driven to succeed now, as a clever and astute color commentator of area football games for WMYA MyTV 40 since 2015. Last season, he praised Reynolds star QB Eli Carr for how “he set his feet” for balance, to throw quickly yet smoothly.


The Detroit automaker’s “Built Ford Tough” motto fits Coach Ford. He wore shorts at games — no matter the chill. Fiery Ford fired on all cylinders as an intense motivator, jumping onto the field as plays started, and once raced across the field to contest a call. He was demanding and vocal, yet jolly and personable to players. 

“That’s a fine line,”  he said. “ I can be their friend during the day. But in practice or the weight room, it’s time to work. I only know to go hard.”

Yet “if I jump a kid at practice,” right after it he “hugged him.” He supplied peanut butter and jelly sandwiches after practices.

Befriending the athlete might help keep him away from gang members who “put the wrong things (drugs) in their hands.”

His relentless Warhorses often beat larger and faster foes. B.J. Laughter coached rival Hendersonville (HHS) against Ford in 1997-2012. He praised how Ford “cares about his players” and how they went full-tilt, to “please him. They feed off his wild-guy” outbursts.

Ford, a 1975 Owen grad, was an offensive guard. With “perseverance” he worked up to starting defensive end at Mars Hill. Merely 5-foot-10 and 181 pounds, “I led with my head” to tackle.

Mapp, Silver

The Mountain Amateur Athletic Club postponed to next year the 59th WNC Sports Award Banquet slated for May 24 and honoring premier WNC prep athletes and teams. The Hall of Fame inductions segment splits off. Coordinator Keith Jarrett posted hopes to hold Hall inductions and two lifetime awards (one to veteran WLOS-TV sports anchor Stan Pamfilis) sometime this year.

The Class of 2020 also has Asheville High basketball star Rhonda Mapp, and Mike Silver whose McDowell Lady Titans hoops won the ’91 4-A state title. Mapp led AHS to a 4-A state crown in 1987. She averaged 25 points and 16 rebounds in her final two seasons. She starred for NC State (17 ppg., 9.2 reb.) then played six WNBA seasons.

Kenny Ford fires up his troops, at a scrimmage. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Kenny Ford fires up his troops, at a scrimmage.

Owen Resurgence

Ford was a McDowell assistant in 1980-85. His Owen successor Nathan Padgett enters his sixth season, after a breakout 7-5 campaign in 2019. “We knew there’d be a (talent) dip, at first,” Ford said. “But Nathan got the program back where it needs to be. Nathan played for me. He keeps the Warhorse pride.” Padgett, a 1994 Owen grad, was a lineman for Ford in “trenches” and knows Owen tenacity, ruggedness and intimidation.

‘Moves Like Jager’

The King of Swannanoa Valley passed the torch after his athletic and dominant 2014 squad won its first 12 games, reaching round three.

Jager Gardner set a WNC career mark of 6,955 rushing yards. Ford said he lit a fire under Gardner, then a shy sophomore hanging with a “bad crowd,” when meeting with him in 2012. “Jager kept his head down, and mumbled,” Ford recalled. “I said, ‘Damn it, Jager! Pick your head up, when people are talking to you. And I’m tired of your mumbling.”

Ford proudly said “Jager turned it around” with grades, and starred as Temple’s starting tailback. Gardner broke his ankle in his 2019 finale, was undrafted, but is mostly healed now and looks to make an NFL practice squad, Ford said. Gardner and other former Warhorses lifted weights in Ford’s garage in recent weeks.

Big Brad, Bold Kenny

Ford coached superstar QB Brad Johnson in his first year at the helm, in 1986. Big Brad played for Florida State, and led Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl triumph in 2002. In early ‘86, Ford promised Johnson to “make it fun” with gadget plays. Years later, Johnson’s autographed inscription to Ford was “Thanks for making it fun.”

The “Whammy” play worked to score a TD, and ignite a huge upset of Reynolds in ’86 and a 10-3 record. “You run back the kick to the opponent’s sideline,” Ford explained. The foe (ACR) exchanges kick coverage for its defense. That takes time. But Owen’s offense was its return team, stayed in, and lined up for a hurried play catching the defense unprepared.

“Brad pretends he’s tying his shoe,” to lull the Rockets and “sell it.” Then in a self-snap “he picks up the ball one-handed like a snap, behind the line,” Ford said.

Johnson heaved a bomb for a wide-open catch and startling score.

Ford shifted dare into overdrive in his very first contest, too, to edge Erwin in overtime. Owen was shutout for three quarters but scored twice to tie and force overtime. Each team scored in OT. Rather than kick the extra point for a second OT, brazen Ford went for two points.

The 6-6 Johnson smashed in. A 290-pound lineman motioned wide, decoying “as if leading an option” run, Ford recalled. “Brad faked to the fullback. He lunged over the line, to win it.”