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Oklahoma football: A senior season like no other for D.J. Ward

D.J. Ward was one of the top high school football players in Oklahoma, but transferring from Lawton to Douglass to Southmoore left him ineligible for his senior season. But with a football scholarship at Oklahoma waiting, Ward stayed focused and remained close with the Sabercats' team.
by Jenni Carlson Published: February 2, 2013
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photo - High school football player D.J. Ward poses for a photo at his Lawton, Okla., home on Thursday, July 19, 2012. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman
High school football player D.J. Ward poses for a photo at his Lawton, Okla., home on Thursday, July 19, 2012. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

“We heard a bunch of rumors.”

And if they heard them, Ward heard them, too.

Finally during the third week of the season, the OSSAA made a ruling: Ward could return to Douglass and be eligible or he could stay at Southmoore and play junior varsity.

“Which I don't know if you've ever seen him play,” Brickman said, “but him playing jayvee football would be a little scary.”

Search for D.J. Ward on YouTube, and watch him blow by varsity offensive lineman and toss around varsity backs like rag dolls.

Then think about him against jayvee players.

Scary.

Ward weighed his options for a couple days. Should he bite the bullet and return to Douglass? Could he even think about playing jayvee? Ultimately, he decided he couldn't do either.

On Sept. 12 — two days before Southmoore's third and final nondistrict game — Ward said on Twitter that his season was over.

“So ... I'm not playing football this year,” he wrote.

The tweets that followed told of a tormented teen.

“Second night of no sleep ... Too much crap going through my head.”

“Ossaa.”

Then came a post in which Ward said he was fine, a post that would be indicative of the months to come.

“Still on track to do big things.”

* * *

Ward didn't turn away from football when he found out he couldn't play.

Quite the opposite.

He remained part of the team at Southmoore. Even though he eventually stopped practicing, he did everything else that the varsity players did. He'd be in the locker room before games and stand on the sideline during them. He'd go to Buffalo Wild Wings with the guys after games. He'd participate in the team functions, be it playing laser tag or going to the movies.

“He was definitely part of the team,” Edwards said

Ward did everything but play for Southmoore.

Those closest to him say that Ward desperately wanted to be on the field under the Friday night lights. And his Twitter feed had several references to games that he wished he could play in.

But neither Edwards nor Stallings saw Ward angry or bitter.

“He was pretty even-keeled,” Stallings said. “Going through the whole thing, he was really like a rock.”

Edwards said, “Of course he wanted to go out and play his senior year. Who doesn't?”

He paused.

“You know, he had to do what he had to do.”

And what he had to do was continue to focus on his future in football.

Ward asked if he could use Southmoore's weight room, and Brickman was happy to oblige. Ward lifted with the team, then did his own individual workouts.

Edwards' phone would ring some days at 5 a.m.

It would be Ward.

“Tre,” he'd say, “let's go work out.”

Ward's father also got a gym membership so they could work out any time the Southmoore weight room wasn't available.

Ward was 245 pounds before the season.

Now, he's 255 pounds.

“I think he handled the adversity very maturely,” said his brother Lee. “Initially, it was somewhat frustrating just from the not-knowing aspect of it. Relatively quickly, he just accepted it — ‘All right, I can't change this. I'm not going to worry about it. I'm going to continue to go work out and get ready.'”

* * *

D.J. Ward will return to the school where he never played later this week. He has decided to sign his national letter of intent during Southmoore's signing day ceremony.

It's another step forward.

Ward set his sights on this next phase of his career even while he was finishing up his high school classes as Southmoore. He spent as much time as possible in Norman last fall. He went on unofficial visits. He attended every game that he could.

Those days were reminders of what was to come.

He knew his career was not over, just paused.

Now, Ward has immersed himself in spring classes and offseason workouts. In the coming weeks, he'll start spring practice.

He'll be back in football.

Did he ever really leave it?

by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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