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February 7, 2013
Sooner signee D.J. Ward trudged a tough road to Signing Day
17 seniors signed national letters of intent for athletic scholarships to more than a dozen different junior and four-year colleges. They will attend schools as far east as Yale, as far west as Colorado State.
But only one will attend Oklahoma. His name is D.J. Ward.
He plays football, though he hasn't played a competitive game since November 2011.
SCOOPHD: DJ WARD'S TALENTS HAVE BEEN ON HOLD
After his junior year at Lawton, Ward was ranked as the best prep football player in the state, a Rivals.com four-star recruit and the sixth-best defensive end in the country. He was even selected to be a part of the initial Rivals 5-star Challenge in Atlanta, Ga., before the start of his senior year.
His father, Demetrius, a 21-year Army veteran, couldn't have been more proud.
"This is something that doesn't happen to every high school kid, and for him to be like that, this is awesome," Demetrius said.
Ward wore a black suit, black tie, and his hair was pulled back to show the full effect of his black spectacles across his face to mark the occasion. He looked like former NFL player Dhani Jones with dreadlocks; intelligent, eccentric, confident.
He strutted into the gym at Southmoore for the school's signing day ceremony after attending his only class Wednesday at Oklahoma: a 9:30 a.m. Pilates class. He's enrolled in classes in Norman this spring after graduating high school not two months ago.
"It was a learning experience, going to college and all," Ward said. "I was a little lost, but I'm getting a level head, and I'm used to it now."
When he arrived at Southmoore, Ward was on course to graduate in December, a full semester early, and on track to enroll at the University of Oklahoma in January. He's been motivated since he first entered high school to finish early.
"I always thought I wanted to graduate high school early, but my sophomore year, it really hit me that I wanted to get out of high school early and get into college," Ward said.
Attending college and attending classes is a new and welcome routine for Ward who spent his senior year at three different high schools in the last 10 months. He's one of just five native Oklahomans to sign a letter of intent with the Sooner football team.
Ward moved to Moore after attending Lawton for three years when Demetrius was offered and accepted the position of Junior ROTC instructor at Douglass High School in Oklahoma City. The Wards moved to Moore because that's where they found a permanent residence.
They filed the necessary paperwork with Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association required to be granted a hardship to play at Douglass, and he was granted that hardship. Once at Douglass, Ward didn't like it, and his father could understand.
The plan was for him to attend Douglass only because that's where his father worked. In theory, it worked, but in practice there were kinks.
Ward played only a few preseason games with the Trojans before deciding to transfer to Southmoore.
"Getting to Douglass and seeing how things were as far as the culture, it was not a good fit for D.J.," Demetrius said. "So my wife and I had discussions to basically take him out of the school and put him in another school because our thing is getting an education. Not saying he wouldn't have gotten an education over there, but it would have been a lot of distractions. "
It seemed like a reasonable decision for Ward to transfer to the school closest to where he lays his head at night, but Demetrius would wind up regretting the decision to transfer his son for a second time, the last time.
"I did not know it was going to be a big thing with the OSSAA," Demetrius said. "Knowing that, we would've probably just stayed in Lawton."
Southmoore's faculty helped Ward file another hardship waiver, but it was to no avail. Once word reached Demetrius that his son wouldn't be allowed to play varsity football anywhere else in the state, they called Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops to let him know the bad news.
But Stoops didn't see Ward's not being able to play his senior as a reason to rescind the program's scholarship offer to him. He told Ward he'd seen enough of his play during his sophomore and junior year to feel comfortable with honoring his scholarship offer.
"They were very supportive and understanding about our situation, and that right there, as a parent, is all you can ask for is that the coach has the better interest of your kid," Demetrius said.
So with his fears of losing his scholarship laid to rest, Ward set himself to the task of becoming bigger, faster, stronger.
"I work out, like, every day," Ward said. "I take off on the weekends, but just stay in shape."
He added 10 pounds of muscle to his already impressive 6-foot-4 frame and tips the scales at 255 pounds. He'll have the remainder of the 2013 winter and early spring to work with Sooner strength coach Jerry Schmidt once he clears some last paperwork with the NCAA.
In OU's new defensive scheme -- moving to a 3-4 defense after years of running a 4-3 defense -- Ward thinks he might see time at outside linebacker. And if he does, he'll be ready.
"I'm open for it, whatever helps the team," Ward said. "I'm down for it. Three-four, outside linebacker, whatever -- I'll do whatever the team needs."