INDIANAPOLIS – Denzel Ward will be competing for more than just his draft stock when the Ohio State cornerback participates in the vertical jump at the NFL Scouting Combine on Monday.
Through the website Pledge It, Ward set up a donation drive in which donors have committed to give a pledged amount of money to the Paul G. Ward Jr. Scholarship Fund for every inch that Ward leaps on Monday. (Update: Ward recorded a 39-inch vertical jump at the NFL Scouting Combine on Monday, bringing his overall total of donations to more than $6,000.)
That cause is important to Ward because the Paul G. Ward Jr. Scholarship Fund, which will provide financial assistance to graduating seniors who are going on to college in the city of Bedford, Ohio, was set up by Ward’s family in honor of his late father.
"My dad was my role model in my life, and somebody I really looked up to," Ward said. "It was very difficult when my dad passed away, so I wanted to do something in honor of my dad, just because I know he would enjoy seeing me here."
Paul Ward, who was the principal of Carylwood Intermediate School in Bedford, died on May 2, 2016 – while Denzel Ward was finishing up his freshman year at Ohio State – when he suffered cardiac arrest while participating in a spin class.
It wasn’t easy for Denzel, just 19 years old at the time, to come to terms with the loss of his father. But Ward said the support of the rest of the Ohio State football team, particularly from head coach Urban Meyer and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs – who Ward considers to be a father figure – helped him through it.
"Ohio State was very supportive," Ward said. "Like Coach Meyer and Coach Coombs, times that I were down, they could notice when something was kind of wrong with me, and my brothers there, I would go in and talk to Coach Meyer and Coach Coombs, and they’d just help me get through times like that. Very difficult times."
Ward has already tried to honor his father with his actions both on and off the field over the past two years, specifically noting Ohio State’s Sept. 17, 2016 win over Oklahoma as a special moment because that would have been his father’s 47th birthday.
Now, though, he has an opportunity to do it in a tangible way for a cause that was near and dear to his father – supporting students in their education – while also working toward achieving his dream of playing in the NFL.
“It was very difficult when my dad passed away, so I wanted to do something in honor of my dad, just because I know he would enjoy seeing me here.”– Denzel Ward
Projected to be one of the first cornerbacks selected in the 2018 NFL draft, and Ohio State’s fifth cornerback in five years to be a first-round pick, Ward is expected to be among the top performers in on-field workouts for defensive backs on Monday, the final day of the combine. His marquee event will be the 40-yard dash – which he considers to be his best drill – as he looks to prove he is one of the fastest players in this year’s draft class.
That athleticism should also translate over to the vertical jump, though, which gives him the potential to be among the combine’s top performers in that event, as well, and raise more scholarship money in the process.
Ward has the potential to leave Indianapolis as one of the stars of the combine, but his ultimate goal is to hear his name called on April 26 – the first day of the draft – a moment that he expects to bring joy to his family regardless of where he gets selected.
"I’m going to just enjoy just seeing the smiles on my mom’s face and my brother and my family," Ward said. "I just know my dad’s going to be looking down smiling. I know he wishes he could have been here."
If Paul Ward was still alive today, Denzel believes his father’s advice to him would be to be honest with everyone he comes in contact with and to stay true to himself.
"Stay humble through it all," Ward said of what his father’s advice would be. "Don’t let the money or the fame or glory change you."