LAWTON — D.J. Ward understands how lucky he's been.
Ward is in a military family. His dad, Demetrius Sr., was in the Army for nearly 25 years.
His mother, Vanessa, grew up in a military family herself.
Unlike many military families, though, including plenty of his friends at Lawton, Ward hasn't moved from base to base around the country.
Demetrius was stationed at Fort Sill, where he met Vanessa, from 1985 until 2009, when he retired and joined Northrop Grumann, a large defense contractor.
It wasn't easy, though, as the tradeoff involved Demetrius volunteering for hardship tours in Korea (three times) and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (once), so his family could remain in Lawton.
Now, though, Ward is facing a move for the first time, after his father accepted a Junior ROTC instructing job at Douglass High School.
The final paperwork on the job is expected to be completed by next week, allowing the family to move and for D.J. to start school at Douglass on Aug. 1.
“I'm just looking forward to finishing my senior year,” Ward said.
Ward is the No. 1 player on The Oklahoman's Super 30 list of the state's top recruits. He has committed to Oklahoma, giving the Sooners four commitments on the list.
“I always watched college football and thought there was no way I'd ever be able to do that,” Ward said. “When I started being recruited and realized I could have that chance, it was surreal, knowing that I was blessed enough to get this opportunity.”
There's no doubt now Ward belongs at that level. In addition to the Oklahoma offer, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound defensive end has offers from other big-time schools from around the country. He'd likely be garnering many more if he wasn't committed to the Sooners.
That Ward he turned into a big-time football player shouldn't have been that big of a surprise.
Demetrius grew up in Lima, Ohio, about two hours outside of Columbus. He was — and remains — a big Ohio State fan, something that has rubbed off on D.J.
The curb addresses at the family's Lawton home feature the scarlet “O” logo, as does a flag in the front yard. A blanket in the living room also displays his Ohio State pride.
“I went to Akron for a year but it's always Ohio State for me,” Demetrius said.
After one season on the Akron football team, Demetrius' grades took a dip and he was quickly ineligible.
The experience has shaped the way the Wards have raised their children, three boys and a girl.
“I use myself as an example of what not to do,” Demetrius said. “You've got to be focused. You can't go in there like you're half-cocked. After football season, I didn't worry about school. I use that a lot in telling them not to do the things I've done.”
The message has sunk in with D.J., the youngest of the four.
“Just be respectful and don't do anything crazy,” Ward said of his attitude. “Don't do anything your mom would be disappointed of.”
Demetrius and Vanessa set the tone.
“They preached hard work, and with hard work comes all of the spoils,” Ward said. “I never was one to showboat and boast, though.”
It's an attitude that Ward has shown since he was a toddler.
“Even when he was 3 or 4, he was that determined,” Demetrius said. “He was a different kind of kid. He reminds me of Lee (the second of the Wards' four children). If you tell them they can't do anything, they'll do it just to prove you wrong. They have an inner drive.”
Both father and son say it was a big deal when Ohio State started recruiting Ward.
“It was in my head for a little bit,” Ward said. “I was thinking about going there.”
Oklahoma, though, felt like home. Ward was at many OU home games last year, getting to know not only the inner workings of the football program but the campus as well.
When he visited Norman for OU's spring game in early April, he didn't expect to walk away having committed.
But during the day, he felt a pull.
“I knew where everything was and what to expect,” Ward said. “It just felt like a fit. There was no more exploring that I needed to do.”
Sitting with his sister, Courtney, and parents, during the game, Ward told them he wanted to commit.
“Are you sure,” Demetrius asked.
“It's time,” Ward said.
No. 1: D.J. Ward
School: Douglass (Played last season at Lawton)
Position: Defensive end
Recruited by: Committed to Oklahoma. Also has offers from Arizona, Auburn, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Tulsa among others.