In the waning moments of Alabama's 31-10 win over Arkansas, the Hogs had their third quarterback in to run the two-minute drill. Travaris Jackson (a Montgomery Lanier grad) dropped back and fired a deep out route toward Bama's left sideline. Ward, who had been burned deep for a costly score earlier in the season, sniffed this one out and broke on the ball. Sixty yards later, in front of over 83,000 Bryant-Denny witnesses, he was in the end zone celebrating his first collegiate touchdown.
"I kind of knew it was coming, said Ward. " I had been standing on the sideline watching before I came in for that series. They had been throwing a lot of hitches to that sideline, because that allowed them to get out of bounds quickly. When the quarterback broke the huddle and was walking up to the line, he was looking to my side. At first I thought he was just bluffing, but when the play started coming that way I already knew, so I just broke on the ball."
En route to "the house," Ward made a move any offensive player would have been proud of, effectively burying Jackson's athletic supporter around the Hog's 20-yard line.
"I was hoping that he would set himself up. I was trying to set him up," Ward said of the fake Jackson won't soon forget. "He had a good angle on me at first, and I knew if I had cut back too early I would have run right into him. So I let him overrun me, and then I cut it back. When I came back to the sideline, all my teammates told me they thought I was going to run out of bounds, but I told them I played quarterback in high school. I'm an old option quarterback."
Most observers feel Ward will greatly add to his career total of picks in the coming three and a half seasons." I don't want to say anything to jinx myself, but this was another learning experience. But a good one this time."
"For a young corner like that to make a pick and take it all the way back was really big," said Alabama Head Coach Dennis Franchione. "Corners live more on 'the island' and when they can do something like that it certainly reinforces that confidence level that they can play. That was a good play for our football team."
Ward, a redshirt freshman from Starkville, Mississippi, chose Bama over the hometown MSU Bulldogs after following teammate Freddie Milons at quarterback for Starkville High. The 6-1, 175 pounder rushed for 924 yards and threw for 1074 en route to an 8-3 record as a senior. He also picked off four passes over his final two high school seasons. He was a member of the Atlanta Journal Southern 100 and was rated the number 15 safety prospect in America by Rivals 100. The Jackets made the state playoffs in his junior and senior seasons. Last year, he sat out and worked on the nuances of cornerback, SEC-style.
"Yes! Yes! Yes!" exclaimed a grinning fellow former Starkville High Yellow Jacket Milons of Ward's trip to the endzone. "That was nice! The people back home in Starkille; I'm sure they're proud. I'm sure they're happy. Me, myself I'm very happy for Thurmond. That was a nice pick, and that was a nice move at the end, too, to put it in. I'm sure the people back home are happy, and I'm sure (former SHS Head) coach Chuck Friend (now) over at Tuscaloosa Central is happy, too."
"He's made some (progress), I think all the cornerbacks have," said Tide Defensive Coordinator Carl Torbush of Ward's season. "They've been beaten some in the last two weeks...but they've kept competing. That's what you've got to do at cornerback. You can't get your feelings hurt when things don't go well, because next play, you've got a chance to make a big play, and we made a couple of those Saturday."
"There's nothing like that," said Ward's cornerback coach, Chris Thurmond. "If you're a defensive back, you sit on a route. The quarterback looked, and thought that he got a pre-snap read. It worked out good. Now, it'll jumpstart him, hopefully. You need to make plays like that, and then you can build on those."
Thurmond says Ward is making a move to earn more playing time as he continues to learn the college game and the Torbush defense. "He's gotten better. He's gotten a lot better. You gotta remember, the first time Thurman had ever been on a (college) field was the UCLA game. So, playing that position, you've got to be out there some, you've got to be under the heat, and he's gotten better. He's gotten better at practice, and hopefully that play will help his confidence. Again, probably the number one ingredient in playing the cornerback position is confidence."
Ward and his secondary mates hope that confidence continues to build when the Tide faces South Carolina's Gamecocks at 11:30 a.m. Saturday in Columbia's Williams-Brice Stadium. Ward is currently listed second team but figures to see meaningful time Saturday, as he has in the Tide's first three contests.
Ward played 17 snaps at corner against Arkansas, and seven more on special teams. He says he hopes the big play will add to his progress as an SEC corner. "I'm getting to the point where I'm learning to see a lot better. I can watch two receivers at the same time and see things develop before it actually happens. I'm getting a good feel for it."
Alabama coaches, players and fans hope that feeling just keeps getting better and better.