D.J. Ward couldn't play football this past season.
He couldn't stay away from it either.
One of the state's best high school players, Ward had a senior season like no other. It started with a family move from Lawton last summer, but what came after was a strange series of events that ultimately left Ward ineligible to play.
But with a football scholarship at Oklahoma and a dream of one day playing in the NFL, Ward couldn't just forget football.
“He knows what his goal is,” his brother and mentor Lee Crain said. “He understands to get where he needs to be, there are certain things he has to do.”
Later this week, Ward will make his commitment to the Sooners official by signing a national letter of intent. But his signing day pledge is mere formality; Ward graduated from high school in December and enrolled at OU in January.
These past six months have been a rough and peculiar chapter in Ward's life.
A season without football.
Or was it?
* * *
Tre Edwards remembers the day D.J. Ward moved in next door.
The Southmoore High School quarterback never imagined it was the ballyhooed defensive end. He didn't even think the guy was his age. The dude had dreadlocks, a mustache and a beard. Surely he was in his 20s or maybe even 30s.
A few days later, Edwards heard rumors that Ward had moved into the school district, and his mind immediately went to the guy he'd seen next door.
“No way that's D.J. Ward,” Edwards thought.
But it was, all 6-foot-3, 245 pounds of him.
Ward's family had moved from Lawton to Moore. Ward's father, Demetrius, had landed a Junior ROTC position at Douglass High School, and the family had moved into temporary housing in Moore.
The place just happened to be next to Southmoore, so close that a rock thrown from the front yard would hit the school.
But Ward was headed to Douglass to play. That's where his dad was going to work, so that's where he was going to school. After filling out the proper paperwork with the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association — the family asked for a hardship waiver since it planned to permanently move into the Douglass district — he was cleared to be a Trojan.
On Aug. 24 and 25, he played for Douglass in the All-City Preview.
But something didn't feel right. Ward would later tell one of his coaches that Douglass wasn't for him.
“It's not really the atmosphere I want to be in,” the coach remembered the player saying.
Less than a week after wearing Douglass orange and black in the All-City Preview, he enrolled at Southmoore.
* * *
Southmoore coach Jeff Brickman knew when he first met Ward in the counselor's office that it would be a long shot if he ever played a down for his team.
“I assumed he probably wouldn't be able to play, to be honest,” he said.
As he listened to Ward's story on the day that the youngster enrolled at Southmoore, Brickman realized the hurdles with the OSSAA would be many.
“They don't ever see any gray areas,” the coach said of the state's governing body for high school sports. “It's always black and white.”
Southmoore officials helped Ward fill out another hardship waiver, sent it to the OSSAA and hoped for a good outcome.
In the meantime, Ward began practicing with Southmoore. He would do position and conditioning drills, but since no one knew if he'd be available when it came time for games, he rarely played when the starters would scrimmage each other during the end of practice.
Instead, he'd run scout team.
Jackson Stallings marvels at that.
“He ran scout team for a team that he was easily the best player for,” the Southmoore tight end/defensive end said.
That's how it went for the better part of three weeks — arguably the state's best player running scout team.
All the while, the rumors were flying about Ward's eligibility. The players heard something different every couple hours, it seemed.
“How he had to sit out 10 days but then he'd be able to play,” Stallings said, rattling off some of the rumors. “He'd be cleared right after the Westmoore game. He'd be cleared once we went to districts.