When James Ford took over as Culpeper High School’s new head football coach last April, he was prepared for the challenge of leading the Blue Devils’ football program as it made the step up from Class 3 to Class 4.

What Ford was not prepared for, however, was the news he received from his doctor shortly before the season kicked off in late August. Ford was diagnosed with leukemia, forcing him to step away from Culpeper’s program to undergo treatment.

While the 38-year-old Prince Edward County native has been gearing up for the fight of his life since receiving the diagnosis, Culpeper’s football team and coaching staff have been busy doing more than just carrying on without their leader.

The Blue Devils have started an apparel fundraiser in honor of their coach, with all proceeds going directly to the Ford family.

The apparel for sale consists of short-sleeve and long-sleeve T-shirts, as well as hoodies—all of which are emblazoned with the school’s logo and the hashtag, “#FordTough.”

The team and staff have set a goal of 500 sold, and they’re hoping the Culpeper community will rise to the occasion for Ford, who they say has ingrained himself in the school and the program in just the few months since his arrival.

“[Ford] has come in here and really blessed us all in a short amount of time,” acting head coach Brandon Utz said after the Blue Devils beat Monticello 30–6 on Friday night for their first win of the season. “You can see his his impact in how our team plays on the field and in this win. Everything we do, we owe it to him.”

Ford, who is resting up at home with his wife and two daughters after finishing his first round of treatment, says he’s in high spirits.

“I appreciate all the thoughts, prayers and everything else that everyone is doing on my behalf,” he said via text message on Friday afternoon. “I’m doing well and staying strong and positive.”

Utz said that Ford could return in the near future.

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