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Future Sooner DJ Ward has made Lawton a recruiting hotbed again
Coaches love players who make others around them better. Whether it’s from a contagious work ethic or pure talent, getting teammates to play better is a highly sought-after commodity.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise how much Lawton High coach Randy Breeze thinks of defensive end DJ Ward. In the two years Breeze has coached Ward, he’s evolved into one of the top recruits in the nation.
“It’s been a very pleasant experience coaching DJ,” said Breeze. “Obviously, he’s a very talented football player. People see that on the field. But what you can’t see on film is he’s a quality person — a very good young man. (He) makes us all feel better and younger to be around him.”
Beyond that, it’s the impact Ward has had on his teammates that Breeze is most impressed with.
“He’s one of the top 100 players in America,” said Breeze. “It’s also good for his teammates to be able to be seen by so many different colleges in person. With electronics now, we are able to send film all over the country. But we had about 50 D-I schools in here to see us one on one, and we have five players with D-I offers today.
“Those kids may not have had an offer if there hadn’t been a coach come in here to look at DJ.”
It’s easy to see why so many coaches flocked to Lawton to check out Ward in person. At 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, he’s built to be a terror on the defensive line.
His measurables include running 4.57 in the 40 and a 330-pound bench press.
“I got stronger,” said Ward. “Was able to handle bigger linemen like that. Wanted to improve my stamina.”
In his first two seasons with the Wolverines, Ward accounted for 20 sacks and 149 tackles.
Despite a monstrous sophomore year with LHS, Ward entered his junior season looking to get better. Even though it didn’t finish with him hoisting the state championship, he liked how he improved throughout the year.
“It went pretty good,” said Ward. “Didn’t turn out in the end like we wanted it to, but I think it was a pretty fun season for me.”
Ward is the only player in Oklahoma to make the latest Rivals.com top 100 players list. He comes in at No. 99, and he’s the eighth-ranked defensive end in the country and the No. 1 player in the state.
Ward began to gain national attention while only a sophomore. His on-field performance earned him numerous scholarship offers from various major D-I programs, which came as an unexpected surprise for him and his family.
“It was unreal,” said Ward. “I never thought that would happen to me. But as time went on, you get used to it. Texas A&M was first. I didn’t really know what to do or say, so I just sat their listening and taking it all in.”
The Aggies may have been first, but they were not the last. Elite programs such as Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State, Texas and Oregon have shown serious interest. Oklahoma State also threw its hat into the ring with hopes of snagging the state’s top recruit.
“He enjoyed the recruiting process,” said Breeze. “And he handled it better than anyone I’ve been around. He was very humble and very pleasant to everybody. He listened to every school that wanted to come in and talk to him. You need to see his mailbag. He gets about 15 letters a day. Texas came in here and talked to him — Notre Dame, Ohio State — people who normally don’t come to Lawton, Oklahoma, recruited him real hard.
“DJ handled it very well — stayed humble, stayed hard in his work ethic (and) acted mature to have only been a sophomore (when it all started).”
In the end, however, it was the Sooners who won out, as Ward gave his verbal commitment April 14.
“I chose Oklahoma because it felt like a good fit for me,” said Ward. “It’s right down the road for me. I was looking at Alabama and Ohio State, but Oklahoma was close to home. That helped a lot."
Ward could have waited much longer before giving his commitment. The offers were still coming in, and recruiting trips were still available to him. But it became apparent to Ward and those around him that all signs were pointing to Norman.
“I just think one day he realized it was obvious that he wanted to go to the University of Oklahoma,” said Breeze. “It didn’t make us any difference whether he committed early or not. He feels like he made the right choice for the right reasons. We were behind him 100 percent.
"I don’t want to say he feels relieved, but he feels confident in the fact he made the right choice.”
Ward’s speed and strength should do nothing but bolster the OU defensive front once he arrives in 2013. In a conference where so many high-powered offenses live by the pass, a consistent pass-rusher is a must.
Of Oklahoma’s 40 sacks last season, only 21 came from its front four. Ward hopes to improve those numbers when the opportunity presents itself.
“He’s the total package,” said Breeze. “You don’t realize it because he’s a long strider, but he runs the 40 under 4.6. Most of those guys with long arms aren’t big weight lifters, but he benches over 330 pounds. For a long-armed young man, that’s a great deal to push. He has great feet, great balance. He has a good pass rush, obviously. He’s had 11 or 12 sacks every year we've had him.
“DJ has the whole package. He can take on that big tackle, and he can side-step that athletic-type tight end. He is just not a one-dimensional defensive end. He has a lot of assets in him.”
Even though Ward says he enjoyed the recruiting process, making his commitment allows him to turn his entire focus to finishing out his high school career with a bang. He wants to help bring LHS its first state championship since the late 1980s.
“Making the commitment early, it wasn’t that huge for me,” said Ward. “I am glad that I did it. Now I just get to play football. I don’t have to worry about anything else. I still get tons of mail every day, but I’m 100 percent committed to Oklahoma. There is nothing they can say that can change me or what I think of OU.”
That said, plenty of schools will still be trying to pry Ward away from the Sooners. In fact, college coaches were still showing up on the Lawton High campus during spring practice even after he announced his commitment, which is just fine with Breeze.
“It’s been good to get these kind of people in here for numerous reasons,” said Breeze. “We had 10 practices in the spring. We had three to five D-I coaches at each practice. It gave our kids the atmosphere of an NFL combine, where every drill meant something. In the eyes of the recruiter, every pass route, every one-on-one blocking scheme was a whole lot more important.”
“It brings a lot of attention to our community. It’s a big plus for us.”
(Editor's Note: This story appears in Sooner Spectator's 2012 Football Preview issue. To subscribe, call toll free 1-877-841-8877)