NORMAN — DJ Ward was ready for it to end. After a year that started out with him being considered the top ranked player in the state and ending with him not playing a single game, the Southmoore senior was looking forward to graduating Friday.
“High school has been a long and strenuous thing,” Ward said. “I’m just glad it’s over with. It was fun while it’s lasted, but it’s time to get back to work.”
According to Rivals.com, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Ward is the No. 1 ranked football player in the state and the sixth ranked defensive end in the country. He committed to the University of Oklahoma on April 14. At that time he was still enrolled at Lawton High and coming off a stellar junior campaign.
But during the summer, Ward transferred to Oklahoma City Douglass. He soon left Douglass for Southmoore and was ready to play out his final year as a member of the Sabercats.
However, the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association had questions regarding the move to Southmoore. Even though the organization had given him a hardship waiver to play football at Douglass, they declined to give him one when he moved into the Moore School District.
Ward said he doesn’t know why the OSSAA rejected his hardship waiver.
“My parents know,” Ward said. “They didn’t need to tell me about it. So I really didn’t want to find out any way.”
Ward and his family appealed the OSSAA decision and that was declined also. That is when it finally hit him that he would not be playing his senior year.
“When all of it was happening, it was unreal,” Ward said. “ But it is what it is and you have to move on. The day after they rejected whatever they rejected, I just sat there and thought about it that I’m not playing at all this year. I haven’t not played football since I was a little kid. It was really different.”
One of the first players Ward got to know at Southmoore was quarterback Tre Edwards. The two became fast friends and Edwards did his best to make sure Ward still felt part of the team.
“When he first showed up we made sure we had all the kids on the same page and bring him into our Southmoore family basically,” Edwards said. “Most of all we didn’t want him to think he wasn’t apart of the team because he didn’t get to step on the field, he still helped us prepare for other teams. He handled it very well, I couldn’t imagine not playing my senior season due to dumb stuff, He’s still a kid, he should of gotten to play, but he handled it as good as I’ve ever seen anyone else do it.”
Ward continued to practice with the SaberCats for a few days, but his heart wasn’t in it. It took a while for him to get to that point to where he could be around the game.
“Those first two weeks, I didn’t do anything football,” Ward said. “I just kind of stayed away from the game completely. I still worked out. But anything football, I didn’t watch it, didn’t study it. Football was out of my mind. After a while, I kind of warmed back up to it and went to go watch my guys play and that kind of helped me get through it.”
As the months passed, Ward began to look at the situation as blessing in some ways. He said it allowed him to concentrate on his school work and graduate early. Now he can enroll at Oklahoma a semester ahead of schedule and start competing for playing time next year.
Even more important, having to sit out a full season reminded Ward of just how special the game is.
“I am real excited,” Ward said. “It’s a whole new journey. I’m just getting ready to embark on it. It’s really burning because I get a chance to work again and compete with somebody. Not just sitting there on the couch and just watching it. Really, being without it helped me realize big time how much the game means to me. Yeah, my senior year, I didn’t get to play. But before that I was just playing football and having fun. I didn’t get to play this year, but I will get four more years of it in college.”
Michael KinneyFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org