JMU’s Jailyn Ford takes it three steps — and strikes — at a time

“Gimme Three Steps” may have been released more than 20 years before Jailyn Ford was born, but the Lynyrd Skynyrd classic is at the top of her hit list.

When she strolls to the plate or pitcher’s circle the song is often heard emanating from James Madison’s Veterans Memorial Park. It is a song she credits for keeping her focus, especially when a bat is her hand.

“It is not a typical walk-up song, but it gets me focused on my at-bat,” said the senior pitcher and first baseman, who was hitting .328 with a .500 on-base percentage through the Dukes’ first 24 games. “I like to stay a little mellow, not get too hyped up before my at-bat. It gets me in the zone and gets me ready.”

When Ford is pitching, “Gimme Three Steps” might as well be “Gimme Three Strikes.” After all, through her first 16 appearances in the circle this season the 5-foot-10 southpaw had fanned 75 batters in 69 innings while recording a record of 9-1 with an ERA of 1.00. Last season she whiffed 192 in 137 innings.

The self-described country girl also mixes in Jason Aldean’s “She’s Country.”

“That song is a little more close to home,” said the native of Hot Springs, Va., which according to the 2010 census had a population of 738. “I am from a very rural area, so I kind of grew up doing things outdoors.”

The music is sweet no matter what Ford is doing on the diamond for JMU, which won 22 of its first 24 games after making it to the NCAA Regionals last spring. As a pitcher she has a career mark of 73-19 with a 1.57 ERA. At the plate she is a .340 hitter with 39 homers.

The accolades and honors have seemingly come in from every organization that can bestow them, including being a two-time Colonial Athletic Association Pitcher of the Year and twice landing a spot on the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-America Team.

Then there was the perfect game, the first in school history, Ford threw against East Carolina last April 15 when she struck out 13 of the 21 batters she faced. The only blemish was that at first she was not aware of her gem. Only when her teammates rushed the mound to celebrate did she realize what took place.

“I had no idea at the time that it was even happening,” she recalled. “I do not think about those things when I am in a game. I try to focus on each batter. I was very confused (at being mobbed) and did not understand what was going on. They told me to look at the scoreboard and then it kind of set in.”

During her time at JMU, which has a couple of months remaining before graduation, Ford has also made a mark in many areas. Whether it is around the holidays or any time of year she has helped brighten the spirits of youths and senior citizens throughout the university community. She particularly enjoys speaking to youngsters and emphasizing the importance of being active.

“It is nice to be able to give back to a community that gives our program so much support,” said Ford, a candidate for the 2016 Senior CLASS Award, an honor that highlights a Division I student-athlete’s achievements from the classroom to the community.

“I talk to elementary school kids that do not play a sport and inspire them to do more and be more. That is kind what I get out of volunteering. It is not just about the kids, but about the community and getting people more involved in sports and in life.”

Community involvement and achievement in the classroom have a way of spilling over the field of play.

“Success in the classroom and success (in other areas) off the field will relate to success on the field as well,” said the sport and recreation major, who has twice been a dean’s list honoree and has earned CAA academic recognition on multiple occasions. “To be successful in any part of life you have to take your life very seriously. I think (my classroom achievement) is a good reflection on hard work and being able to manage my time efficiently. I like to work hard in every aspect of my life.”

Ford, who along with brothers Jordan, Jonah and Jerry is one of 14 family members and relatives whose name begins with J — something that can be traced to her father’s (Jeff) side of the family — works hard at setting good examples for younger players.

When volunteering as a coach at local youth and travel leagues Ford not only assists with the development of athletic skills, but she emphasizes the importance of being dedicated to giving your best effort.

“I tell them to keep the passion and keep working hard to achieve what you want,” she said. “Derek Jeter said it best that there are going to be players that have more talent, but nobody should outwork you. I think a lot of good things will happen to those who are willing to go outside their boundaries and push themselves further to reach whatever goals they see themselves achieving.”

That is coming from somebody who should know.

Above: Jailyn Ford has a 1.57 ERA and .340 batting average with 39 homers in her James Madison career. (Courtesy USA Softball)

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