Tigers to Bulldogs to Bears, oh my!
Former Hartselle star Jwaun Ward is ready to become a member of the 2006 Baylor team
Justin Schuver, Hartselle Enquirer
It's been a long journey for former Hartselle star Jwaun Ward, who recently graduated from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and will attend Baylor University on a two-year football scholarship starting in January 2006.
Ward initially signed to play football with Tennessee-Chattanooga, a Division I-AA school, after graduating from Hartselle High School in 2002. Following his first semester and first season with the Moccasins, he failed to qualify academically and returned home to attend junior college at Calhoun Community College.
He later transferred to MGCCC, where Ward started for the Bulldogs for two seasons and worked to get his grades in order. Ward graduated from the Mississippi college's two-year program in December, and has decided to continue his academic and athletic career at Baylor, a Big XII-conference school in Waco, Texas.
"Yeah, it's been a long road," Ward said. "It's been crazy over the last two years the way things have been happening for me. It was a tough situation (at UT-Chattanooga) – just being away from home for the first time and going right to a program where I was depended on a lot right away. Having to take care of the athletics part and the school part, it got really tough on me.
"It was a great experience (at MGCCC). I'll never forget it as far as playing football and going to school there. It was a great chance to continue my education down there following Calhoun Community College and it gave me a chance to pick up where I'd left off in both my academics and in athletics."
The 6-foot-1, 208-pound Ward played mostly at linebacker during his Hartselle career, finishing with 172 tackles, 14 sacks, three interceptions and one defensive touchdown. He started at the same position for Tennessee-Chattanooga before his academic ineligibility led to dismissal from the team.
Ward said he made grades his "number one priority" while at MGCCC, and he improved to the point that he was named to the Dean's List his final semester at the college. He plans to continue his studies at Baylor by majoring in political science.
Perhaps one of the biggest and most unique experiences for Ward while at MGCCC was dealing with the devastation and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. While attending a college with campuses in Perkinston, Gulfport and other Mississippi Gulf coast towns, Ward found himself in the center of the storm.
Two of MGCCC's first three games were cancelled, and the remaining contest was rescheduled for later in the season. The Bulldogs finished 7-2 in the regular season and played in the Dalton Defenders Bowl, losing 21-19 to Northeast Oklahoma A&M.
MGCCC also advanced to the Mississippi state championship for the first time since 1986. The Bulldogs lost that game 25-19 to rival Pearl River.
"Hurricane Katrina made a big impact on the football season there and the people there," he said. "(My teammates and I) missed about the first three weeks but then we came together and worked really hard to give those people something to be happy about. We wanted to give them a good football team and we were fortunate enough to be able to play in the state championship game, although we lost. That was really our motivation for the year – to give the people of the coast there something to be excited about."
During his sophomore season with the Bulldogs, Ward was named a second team all-conference player after finishing with 43 solo tackles, 39 assists, one sack and a safety.
Ward, who plans to play strong safety while at Baylor, is the second former Hartselle standout who will be on the roster of a Big XII team in the 2006 football season. Brett Byford, who graduated with and was a close teammate of Ward on the Tigers, is a center at Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers are not scheduled to play Baylor in 2006, but Ward holds out hope that the teams will meet somewhere during his two years with the Bears.
"Brett Byford is my classmate, and I'm looking forward to playing against him," he said. "Actually, he'll probably have to block me in some schemes when we play against each other. That will be a pretty crazy moment right there."
For now, Ward says he is not looking too far ahead. He simply wants to enjoy the opportunity to play at a big-time college program and to finish up his education at a quality academic institution.
"It's very exciting," he said. "That's really what I've been working for the last two years – the chance to get on a big stage and be able to play good teams week after week."
"I'd love to hopefully get a chance to play on Sundays one day (in the NFL), but right now I just want to graduate with my degree and help Baylor football win football games."