HAVERHILL — Sean Ford smiled from ear to ear as he reflected on the pure joy and power of sacking a quarterback. But there is one experience that equals that emotion.
"When I'm playing the drums in front of a crowd and everyone is going crazy it's the same feeling," said Ford. "When I'm just getting into the music and doing everything perfectly and I can hear the cheers, it's just like sacking the quarterback. All eyes are on you."
At 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, Ford looks every bit the defensive lineman. He is in his third year anchoring the Whittier Tech defense. But the senior is becoming known for his other longtime passion, writing and performing rock music.
"It's an amazing feeling," said Ford. "Sometimes you just get into that groove and it's like nothing can go wrong. Just jamming or playing live. When you are in that zone you are just playing, like the zone when you're playing football."
Ford first fell in love with rock when his mother, Ann-Marie, introduced him to iconic grunge pioneers Nirvana.
"My mother is the reason I am what I am today," said the Haverhill resident. "She introduced me to Nirvana and I fell in love. I wanted to be like (front man) Kurt Cobain. Once I was in fifth grade I started seriously writing lyrics for songs. Then I started playing the guitar. But the more I watched (Nirvana drummer) Dave Grohl and saw the power that he brought to playing the drums, I knew I wanted to do that."
So the youngster began begging his parents for a drum set. But he would have to work for his dream.
"We made a deal with Sean," said father Mike, who grew up in Methuen. "We would pay for his lessons, but he had to save up the money for his drum set. He is the kind of person that follows through with that."
With drums sets priced at a minimum of $600, many would have given up. But Sean purchased his set, and his obsession only grew.
"Once I started playing I got pretty good right away," he said. "Playing the (video game) Rock Band helped, too. But I played a ton and progressed pretty fast."
While playing and performing are a thrill for Ford, he is equally dedicated to the creation of music. He writes and composes full songs, penning lyrics and music for every instrument.
"It's a real challenge," he said. "You have to know all the different aspects of the different instruments. Sometimes it's easy and I can write a song in a week. But sometimes it takes a month to make one song perfect.
"I love writing lyrics. I can express my feelings easier than just saying it. I have been influenced by rap music along with heavy metal."
Ford finally had the opportunity play the songs he poured his heart into while a member of the band No Luck.
"When the whole band is playing something that I wrote it is amazing," he said. "No one else knows it's all me, but I know and the band knows. And to have everyone liking it enough to play my song shows me that I actually did a good job. Now I'm looking for a new band to play with."
On the gridiron
Ford caught the eye of Whittier coach Kevin Bradley at a young age.
"I remember seeing him down at the Little League field when he was much younger," remembered Bradley. "He was just enormous. I said to Mike, 'He is coming to play for me at Whittier.'"
Bradley and Mike Ford first met as 8-year-olds playing Little League in Methuen. They remained friends while playing football for the Rangers, and even ended up at college together while Bradley played football and Ford played hockey at Plymouth State.
"I'm not tall at all and was a defensive back," said Mike, whose brother Dan was a two-time 1,000-yard rusher (1986-87) for Methuen and a member of the school's Hall of Fame. "Sean gets his height from his mother's side of the family. His uncle is 6-foot-5 and looks just like him."
Having the massive Ford in the middle of the defense has been a key for the Wildcats, who have won the Commonwealth Conference Large title each of the last two seasons (21-3 overall) and last season won the EMass. Division 4 Super Bowl title with a perfect 12-0 mark.
"He's an ideal player," said Bradley. "He has size, speed and toughness. When you have his combination of his speed and strength it is very dangerous. He's been great, and we haven't even seen the best of him yet. He is being recruited by schools like UNH and UMass."
Ford opened his season in fine fashion in Whittier's season-opening 28-22 win over Southeastern, recording a bone-rattling sack.
"I'm more a run-stopper, but I can rush the passer then they need me to," he said. "To sack the quarterback is, next to winning a championship, the best feeling a defensive lineman can have. On that play, I burst through the line, saw the QB, dipped my shoulder and drove him into the ground. A tackle is just awesome. You hear your name called over the intercom, everyone cheers, it's awesome."
Player of the Week
Ned Deane, Andover linebacker
Back from a torn MCL suffered last season, Deane led the Andover defense with seven tackles and a pair of drive-crushing sacks in the win over North Andover. The starting tight end also caught a 2-point conversion.