D.J. Ford (9) works with fellow East Carolina defensive back David Laney during a practice last week.

Former North Carolina starting defensive back D.J. Ford signed with East Carolina in December to be an impact player for the Pirates, who in return, have gladly seen him emerge as a physical and mental leader already on defense.

In addition to Ford’s 6-foot-3 and 208-pound frame, the safety and graduate student uses his mind and past playing experience — he was part of two bowl appearances at UNC and played in 33 total games with nine starts — in helping younger Pirates during practices with any guidance or tips he might be able to provide.

“Something I pride myself on is being able to help the team in any way I can,” Ford said. “I feel like the more I can help the young guys, the more I can help myself and help this team take a step forward. Things happen and sometimes when the young guys get thrown out there, they need to be ready at all times. I do my part to make sure they are ready.”

Ford opted out prior to last season, which essentially opened his path to transfer to another school for his final year of eligibility.

“My motivation level is definitely high,” he said. “I put a lot on myself. I feel like I have a lot to prove to myself, as well as other people, and that being the people on this team, my family, my people back home. I just want to make everyone proud.”

The Ashland, Ala., native is a serious candidate to be a starting safety for ECU against Appalachian State on Sept. 2 in Charlotte.

Other leading safeties are Warren Saba, Juan Powell, Shawn Dourseau and Teagan Wilk, and ECU’s top cornerback during the coach Mike Houston era consistently has been Ja’Quan McMillian.

“When you look over to the boundary and not only D.J., but (linebacker) Xavier Smith and (cornerback) Nolan Johnson or McMillian, you have some longer bodies and some pretty good players,” second-year defensive coordinator Blake Harrell said.

Harrell also mentioned versatile outside linebacker Gerard Stringer on Monday as having a productive run of preseason practices.

Indoor emphasis

Saturday was the wettest day so far of preseason camp. It also served as another opportunity for Houston, as he is entering his third season leading the Pirates, to describe an indoor practice facility as a need.

“I had to adjust some of the schedule around a little bit with some of the lightning this morning, but we got outside and had a very, very energetic practice and I thought the kids took another step today in the second day in (shoulder) pads,” Houston said. “You have to have (an indoor practice facility). I’ve said it before. We were disrupted last night and not able to function the way we would have if we had a facility.

“When you get everybody back, basketball has their space and volleyball has their space and other sports have their space. When lightning comes, you can’t do anything about it. For the program to continue to move forward, it’s not a want. It’s a need.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.