In the moments leading up to kickoff, Texas A&M senior running back Keith Ford tries his best to stay calm.
Occasionally, he gnaws on his fingernails as the nerves start to build and his anxiousness surfaces. But when the game begins, that feeling morphs into an aggressiveness that helped him become one of the Aggies' top running backs.
Ford's physicality will be useful when A&M (4-1, 2-0 SEC) faces No. 1 Alabama (5-0, 2-0) at 6:15 p.m. Saturday at Kyle Field. Ever since he was a child, Ford was always a little restless, a trait that could come in handy this weekend against the top-ranked Crimson Tide.
"He'll get bored if he's not challenged, like on the field," said Keith Ford Sr. "His best games are against the best teams, and he performs against the best teams. He strives for that."
Last season's game against Alabama was the younger Ford's breakout performance. He had 15 carries for 62 yards in the Aggies' 33-14 loss in Tuscaloosa. The former Cypress Ranch standout capped the season with a 100-yard performance against LSU and an 86-yard effort against Kansas State.
This season, with freshman Kellen Mond at starting quarterback, A&M has leaned on its stable of running backs led by Ford and sophomore Trayveon Williams. Through five games, A&M's rushing game has accounted for 61 percent of the team's offensive snaps and 60 percent of the team's total yards.
"We have gotten to a point of an identity offensively of who we are. I think everybody sees what that is," A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "We're going to have to continue to get better as people hone in on that identity."
In two seasons at A&M, Ford's on-field identity has started to manifest itself in the way he runs the ball. His contact-seeking style has produced 302 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns.
Ford has always ran that way since he started playing tackle football in middle school.
"My goal is to get to the end zone and I don't want nobody to bring me down," Ford said. "So I just keep that mentality going, just trying to get to the paint."
Some of that mind-set comes from Ford Sr., who is a retired marine. Because of his dad's service, Ford lived in several places, including a seven-year stint in Japan and a stop in Yulee, Fla. There, Ford shared a backfield with former Alabama running back Derrick Henry, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner.
When Ford moved to Houston and played at Cypress Ranch, the coaching staff emphasized the downhill running style that eventually turned Ford into a four-star recruit, according to 247Sports' composite ranking.
Since transferring from Oklahoma to Texas A&M in 2015, Ford has become one of A&M's top two running backs. He's on track to graduate from A&M this school year.
And as the Aggies get into the heart of their schedule, Ford will be one of the players they will rely on for productive carries and a sense of leadership on a roster filled with freshmen.
"Being one of the old heads on the team, I really have to lead by example," Ford said.
Ford won't be worried at trying to find a way around defenders in conference play. He's going to keep attacking in ways he knows best, in a style that's earned him a spot in A&M's running back rotation.
"These teams are going to stay in their lane," said Ford Sr. "And the only way to get what you want is to go through them."