If you put Jaxon Ford in a lineup with five other high school boys, there's no guarantee you'd tab him as the all-state football player.
There's nothing in his size or his demeanor that would indicate he becomes as elusive as a scared rabbit when he has a football in his hands.
But this 5-foot-10, 165-pound senior will be a component in any success the Bismarck Demons enjoy this season.
Ford rushed 177 times for 1,398 yards and 22 touchdowns and caught 16 passes for 223 yards and two scores as BHS romped to a 9-1 mark and a West Region championship.
Unfortunately for the Demons, the loss surfaced in the playoff semifinals, in the form of a 22-7 loss to Minot. The defeat left players, coaches and fans with a bad taste in their mouths at the conclusion of the season.
"We knew Minot was going to put up a big fight, but we definitely weren't expecting it," Ford said in retrospect. "That's not the way we wanted to end the season, and we'll try to make sure season doesn't end that way."
Prior to the upset at the hands of Minot, Bismarck had appeared in seven straight state AAA championship games, winning four. Over that span, the Demons put together a 75-9 record with two undefeated seasons.
Bismarck head coach Mark Gibson says Ford is going to have to stand up and be counted if BHS is to return to that level of excellence. But he emphasizes that football is an 11-man game.
"If you left it up to Jaxon, he'd put it all on his shoulders. ... He's a competitive kid and a multi-sport athlete, but that's nothing we want to do," Gibson said. "... He needs to understand that winning and losing is not solely because of him."
"I hope he doesn't feel there's undue pressure from us as coaches," Gibson added.
Ford didn't have time to mull over the shocking end to the 2014 football season. He jumped straight into hockey, which gave way to high school baseball, which transitioned to American Legion baseball. He's a forward in hockey and a baseball outfielder.
It's cycle that's familiar to Ford, who's been involved in the three-sport, 12-month cycle since the sixth grade. Sports serve as a necessary outlet for his highly-developed sense of competitiveness.
"Even in gym class I hate losing," he said. "My heart is in it. There's no better feeling than competing with the guys next to you and getting a victory."
Ford's father, Rob, a former baseball All-American at Bismarck State College, intoduced Jaxon and his older brother, Coleton, to athletics long before kindergarten.
"I started skating when I was two. I started playing baseball competitively when I was in kindergarten, and football started in the sixth grade," he recalled.
So Ford was already deeply involved in sports when his family moved from Hazen to Bismarck prior to his fourth-grade academic year.
"My dad always pushed me into sports and stuff. ... It's something I've always loved. It's just in my heart and brings a smile to my face," Ford said.
A close look at Ford's rushing statistics from last year adds emphasis to his accomplishments. He averaged 7.9 yards per carry and ran the ball only 21 times in Bismarck's three games with the three West Region teams that failed to make the playoffs.
Ford exploded for 297 yards in 25 attempts and scored three touchdowns in a 54-13 victory over archrival Century. He piled up 208 yards in a 35-7 quarterfinal playoff victory over Grand Forks Red River and topped 100 yards six other times.
He took 26 handoffs in the playoff loss to Minot, a season high, and came away with 127 yards.
Ford said he never felt overworked at tailback. If anything, he'd have preferred more carries.
"I had a lot of fun last year, that's just not how we would have liked to end it," he said. "I've always liked playing running back. I've played it since the sixth grade. We try to condition so that (overwork) never happens. You can train your mind to never quit."
The more carries the better then?
"That's the way I look at it," he responded.
Ford will probably get his wish. Gibson said quarterback Jordan Mann will probably be feeding his speedy, elusive tailback a lot in coming weeks, and not just with handoffs.
"Jaxon reminds me a lot of Jake Miller. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. That's a nice luxury to have," Gibson said. "If it's possible, we'll match him up with an outside linebacker and get him in the open field."
Ford doesn't lack for motivation to improve. BHS on which he played were in the championship hunt in three sports during the last school year and came up empty.
The semifinal loss to Minot was the first of four disappointing setbacks for Ford. In hockey, the defending state champion Demons lost in the state semifinals. BHS, defending a state title in baseball, failed to qualify for the state tournament.
It was the same story in Legion baseball. The Bismarck Governors came up short in their repeat championship bid, placing third in the state AA tournament.
While those defeats were galling, Ford noted that the same thing that makes victory in team sports so satisfying can also lead to a team's undoing.
"In team sports you can go good and you can go bad quickly. You've got to focus on having everyone going the same direction," he said.
Ford characterizes a football season as a precarious 14-week building block process, which makes preseason predictions a crap shoot. He said all a team can do is work hard, diligently prepare and play hard.
"Just never give up. Just never back down from a battle. Stay init to the end as a team," he said. "... Hopefully, that will turn into victories on Friday night."
As he heads into his final year of high school athletics, Ford says this football season has a different feel to it.
"It's a little different. There are different faces around here, and you try to lead by example," he said.
Gibson said Ford's quiet, soft-spoken approach will never be mistaken for a 'follow me boys' style of leadership.
"It would be nice if he'd take more of a leadership role, but you don't tell kids to do that," the coach observed. "I do know that he'll say something when things aren't going well, but he's not a big rah-rah guy."
"Last year he had so many seniors around him. It will be interesting to see how he reacts this year with kids his age," Gibson added. "He will have to take a leadership role, no doubt."