By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - When Rudy Ford gets the call this weekend from the NFL, the first person with whom he'll share the good news won't be able to congratulate him.
His mother, Terrie, suffered brain damage after a heart attack in the fall of 2013, Ford's freshman season at Auburn.
"I want to go back home and just give her a big hug," Ford said. "I'll speak to her, but I haven't heard her voice in a long time."
Ford's family takes care of his mother at their home in Big Cove, Ala., near Huntsville.
"She can open her eyes. Her heart pumps and she can breathe," he said. "But I know she's here with us."
Throughout the past three and a half years, Ford's Auburn family -- his coaches, teammates and former teammates like Chris Davis -- has supported Rudy.
"He's like my older brother," Ford said of Auburn's Kick Six hero. "He was there for me my freshman year when my mother had a heart attack. And he continued to call and check up on me."
"When those guys left, we all just stayed connected," he said. "Everybody's rooting for each other."
Ford, Auburn's leading tackler as a sophomore and junior in 2014-15, missed the Sugar Bowl after injuring a foot in the Iron Bowl.
"I'd never been hurt before, battled through that, overcame it, now I'm 100 percent healthy," he said.
Known for his speed, Ford recovered from foot surgery in time to run a fast 40-yard dash at Auburn's Pro Day in March.
"Some teams had me clocked at 4.28, some teams had me at 4.3," he said. Had Ford not been injured, "I would have definitely clocked a 4.2, no question about it."
Ford, who graduated in December, spent the spring visiting NFL teams and training in Arizona.
"My draft stock has been on the rise," he said. "I'm just thankful for it."
Whether the call comes Friday, in rounds 2 or 3, or Saturday in rounds 4-7, matters little to the defensive back, who played in 52 games over the past four years.
"I'm never caught up in rounds. It's always about what you do when you get there," Ford said. "I'm just ready to see which team I go to and get to work when I'm there. I know what I'm capable of. I know I'm one of the best players coming out of this draft."
Looking back on his time on the Plains, relationships stand out most, Ford says.
"All of the good times I had with the guys that I played with, the brotherhood and all of the bonds that I made," he said.
Ford says Auburn prepared him well for professional football, on and off the field.
"I was able to go through three defensive coordinators, and I learned a lot from every one of them," he said. "Coach Malzahn has been in my corner since I showed up. Having the head coach in your corner is great. I've got a great relationship with him, and Coach Horton too on the offensive side of the ball."
Ford also thanked strength coach Ryan Russell for holding players to a high standard, team chaplain Chette Williams, whom Ford says he speaks to every day, and assistant athletics director David Gunn, who leads Auburn's character education program.
"There have been some great things in place to help develop the 18-year-old into a 21-year-old," he said.
Whichever NFL team employs him, Ford hopes the passion of its fans matches Auburn's.
"Walking down through Tiger Walk," he said. "That always gets your blood flowing. And then, once you come out of that tunnel with the smoke, all the fans, the crowd. That's another thing I reflect on."
Ford's time at Auburn coincided with facilities investments like the South Donahue residence hall and college football's largest video board.
"Everything's changing," he said. "Just reflecting on all the good times we had."
Ford says he will have his phone with him this weekend, but he doesn't plan to follow every pick of the draft on television.
"It's going to be special," he said. "My dad will be there. My brother. I don't need all this big party hurrah type thing. I just want to enjoy it with family. This is back home, where I'm from. This is where it all started."
And where one special person resides, someone Ford could not imagine celebrating without.
"She can't speak," Ford said. "But I still know she's here with me."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer