On the first play of Lawton's first-round playoff game against Norman North, Wolverines' defensive end D.J. Ward made a statement.
“Coaches sit around all week long trying to figure out that perfect first play,” Lawton coach Randy Breeze said. “And they run right at D.J. with a lead blocker, he shucks the tackle, takes on the lead blocker and throws the running back on top of the pile.”
The play went for no gain and Lawton rolled to a 35-7 win over North.
Breeze knew he had something special when Ward arrived as a freshman middle linebacker.
“He was a tall kid that could run,” Breeze said. “We knew speed-wise, he'd probably wind up at defensive end eventually but you could tell there was something there.”
Ward finished this season, his junior year, with 75 tackles and 11 sacks.
He's the only junior on The Oklahoman's All-State team.
Ward is pretty quiet overall but his play has done plenty of talking for him.
“His arm span is enormous,” Breeze said. “He can bench 330 and runs a 4.59. For a kid that size, that's unbelievable.”
He also has a vertical jump of 30 inches.
His positive attributes go far beyond those, though, Breeze said.
“D.J. is just a very likable kid,” Breeze said. “He's a very good student, very quiet — he's a terrible interview — but just a good kid all around.”
Breeze is used to college coaches making the rounds with his team.
One conversation with a Division I assistant last year opened his eyes to just how high the ceiling is for Ward.
“Every D-I coach that's seen him has offered him,” Breeze said. “One, though, came through and said, ‘My job this week is to go see the six best defensive ends in the country and he's the one.”
Ward's offers include OU, OSU, Texas A&M, Oregon State, Baylor, Kansas State and Texas Tech. More figure to come over the offseason as he continues to garner attention.
“I definitely wasn't ready for it,” Ward said of the attention. “About the end of my sophomore year, I realized coaches were starting to look.”
Ward shrugs off most of the attention, though.
“I just picked up a lot and guess I caught some people's eyes,” he said.
His fellow All-State defensive end, Patrick Diaz, like most who've played with or against Ward, though, is more effusive.
“I'm sure he'll make it to the NFL and make the big bucks,” Diaz said. “He's such a great guy and a great player.”