When the Chiefs selected Dee Ford in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, they figured they were getting a lightning-quick defender, someone who could eventually replace the iconic Tamba Hali alongside Justin Houston at the forefront of Kansas City’s intimidating edge rush.
But Chiefs coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey also landed a guy with a diverse background. A young man who grew up shy as a child, one who first found his voice through music, then football.
“He’s an artsy guy,” Reid said. “He’s a tremendous piano player, a musician. He’s got other things in life. But I think he enjoys playing the game, too.”
In many ways, the Chiefs’ 2016 season has been the most enjoyable of Ford’s career. After spending two years as an apprentice behind Hali and Houston, the 25-year-old quarterback chaser led the Chiefs’ outside linebackers in defensive snaps in 2016. More importantly, led the team in sacks (10) and quarterback hurries (17).
While Ford is currently consumed with helping the Chiefs reach the Super Bowl, he took time out before a recent practice to reveal some of his hobbies and interests, and share some of his long-term life goals outside of football.
For instance, he said it’s still common for him to spend a free evening — rare as they are nowadays — at home, practicing on one of his many instruments.
“It clears my mind,” he said.
Ford started playing the piano when he was 12. He performed his first concert in eighth grade and teamed up with his mother, father, two siblings and two cousins to play in nearby churches as a teenager. He says he still plays the keyboard and drums and can play a little guitar, too.
“I’ve got the acoustic drum set, I’ve got the piano in the house,” Ford said. “I’ve got like four digital keyboards.”
Ford enjoys all kinds of music, including gospel, jazz, pop and classical, and said he has designs of being a “super producer” one day, after his career is over.
In fact, Ford says music is the path he would’ve taken to college had he not blossomed into a havoc-wreaking edge rusher who earned a football scholarship to Auburn.
“I actually was in the mix of getting a scholarship for music before I got one for football,” Ford said. “I was in jazz band my senior year of high school, and my teacher was actually going to go and put me in touch with this music director at Alabama. He told me all I had to do was go audition and I’d pretty much get the scholarship because I was really gifted. I would have been in music.”
Ford is certainly not the first football player, or even the first current Chief, to take a serious interest in music. Teammate Hali founded his own label — Relumae Records — and has signed and promoted new artists.
That shared interest helped Ford and Hali bond over the last three seasons.
“Yeah, I’ve been to Tamba’s house in his studio,” Ford said. “We vibe all the time.”
Their relationship made Ford respect how seriously Hali takes his side business and appreciate how much work it is. So much so, in fact, that Ford doesn’t think he wants the responsibility of owning a label.
“My deal is, I want to make somebody a star — I can do that, but I don’t want to do the label part,” Ford said. “There’s a lot that comes with it.”
Instead, Ford says he’d prefer to work with artists directly but not be responsible for promoting them.
“To make money in the music industry, you have to learn the music business, so I’m going to learn the music business and also teach artists how to be an independent artist,” Ford said. “I’ll probably build a team of producers and writers and I would build a particular artist and make them the star, but I don’t want to have a label because a label has to sponsor an artist, and I don’t want to have to sponsor the artist because artists start to get this sense of entitlement.
“(I want you) to go out and work, and I want to give you a hit song, because that’s all you need.”
For now, Ford has his hands full with football anyway. He hasn’t even earned his second contract yet, and his career as a pro is just beginning.
But the 6-foot-2, 253-pounder has never been afraid to dream about the future. He wouldn’t be surprised if he became a full-time artist himself somewhere down the road, or even an actor.
“The money is in these movies,” Ford said with a grin. “I’m going to get in unbelievable shape … It’s hard to stay in shape now because your body is so beat up from football, but when I’m done, I’m going to be like 4 percent body fat and get in shape for these movies.”
The thought of this made him smile, as did his next comment — another subtle reminder that the music lover inside Dee Ford is never far from the surface.
“And if I want to be an artist,” he added, “I can be an artist.”
Get to know: Q&A with Chiefs edge rusher Dee Ford
Q: What’s your favorite song to play?
“That’s a hard question. My favorite song to play, as of right now, is a song called ‘Waltz for Debby.’ That is a jazz piece written by Bill Evans. Very sophisticated.”
Q: You picked that because your mom is named Debbie?
“No. It’s just, the song is amazing. That’s a mix of classical piano and jazz. I learned that song in 2014.”
Q: How many genres of music do you like?
“You’ve got to understand, I like all genres of music because I’m a producer. And when you’re making music, you need to understand every genre to grab bits and pieces from it.”
Q: What’s your Mt. Rushmore of genres?
“You’ve got to have pop. That’s for the people. I love neo-soul; I ain’t a grown man if I don’t like neo-soul. So that, gospel and jazz.”
Q: Who are some artists you like?
“Hmm. Alright. D’Angelo. Erykah Badu. J. Cole.”
Q: What’s one song that’s in your phone that no one would ever suspect music-wise?
“I have classical opera music — different languages, too. Beethoven’s symphony.”