Pitt safety Paris Ford has opted out of the remainder of the 2020 college football season, sources close to Ford have told Pittsburgh Sports Now.
Ford, 22, is a redshirt junior and is widely considered to be one of the top NFL safety prospects for the 2021 NFL Draft. He had been speculated to be a possible early departure after the 2019 season, but decided to return to Pitt for his third season of play with the Panthers this fall.
PSN has learned that increasing COVID-19 infection rates in the area contributed to Ford’s decision. Ford played in all seven games with the Panthers this season, making 45 tackles, three for a loss, three interceptions and defending one pass.
Pitt is 3-4 and has lost four straight games after starting the season 3-0, with high hopes for a team with so many returning stars on defense such as Ford, Damar Hamlin, Patrick Jones II and Rashad Weaver.
Ford was seen arguing with coaches on the Panthers sideline before being removed from Pitt’s loss to Notre Dame last Saturday. Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said after the game that he team merely wanted to get a look at backup safety Brandon Hill with the game out of hand. Hill should be expected to replace Ford in Pitt’s lineup for the remainder of the season.
After redshirting in 2017 and spending 2018 as a reserve cornerback, Ford broke out in 2019, playing in 12 games as Pitt’s starting strong safety. He led Pitt in tackles and interceptions and was second in pass breakups and forced fumbles. He was named a third-team All-American and a first-team All-ACC selection.
Before the 2020 season, he was named a pre-season All-American by multiple selectors and preseason All-ACC. Ford was on the watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Chuck Bednarik Awards as the best defensive player in the country.
Ford was the highest-rated member of Pitt’s recruiting Class of 2017 as a four-star prospect and the No. 3 player in Pennsylvania coming out of Steel Valley High School, where he led the Ironman to a 2016 PIAA Class-2A state title.