Ward graduated from Southmoore in December so that he could start working out with the team and get a jump-start on his first season in college.
“I just want to play football again,” Ward said when he returned to Southmoore in February for a signing ceremony.
Ward's father, Demetrius, called the signing “bittersweet.”
“It was tough watching him sitting there with the decisions that I made, that my wife made, affecting him the way they did,” Demetrius said. “But at the same time, you look at the way he handled it and we're just so proud of him.”
Even his early enrollment didn't go as planned.
Ward couldn't work out with the team for more than three months as the NCAA Clearinghouse reviewed Ward's eligibility.
On signing day in early February, Stoops seemed perturbed that the process had dragged on that long.
“Hopefully, if the NCAA will find time to go through his records and get him cleared, by the time he's on the field, hopefully he'll make that up in spring ball,” Stoops said.
Ward didn't get to make up for much in the spring.
Spring practice started in early March and Ward still hadn't been cleared.
In early April, just days before the spring game and the close of practices, Ward was cleared.
Because of NCAA rules, Ward had to spend two days with no pads other than a helmet before he could practice in full pads.
Ward's first appearance in pads came during the spring game.
“D.J.'s been dying to play again,” Stoops said in the spring. “He's had a great attitude through it all. He's continued to lift and run and you can tell he looks like he's in excellent shape.”