2008 Intro: Justin Ward

WENTWORTH, N.C. --- Justin Ward grew up with visions of playing in the NBA. While those dreams fall apart when his height maxed out, the skills gained from his years on the hardwood translated well to another sport – football.

"His first love probably growing up was basketball," said Lin Stadler, Wentworth (N.C.) Rockingham County's head football coach. "A lot of people around here think of him as a basketball player first, but as good of a basketball player as he is – he's a three-year varsity starter – I could see when he was in the eighth grade his ticket was going to be football.

"But basketball has made him into a great athlete. He has great feet, he's got a good frame, [and] he's an athlete for his size. He has great flexibility in his knees and his hips, which I know a lot of schools look for these days particularly in lineman."

Additionally, Ward, whose 6-foot-4 frame holds his 285 pounds very well, excels in the classroom maintaining a core GPA of 3.3, while taking AP and honors courses.

"His intelligence carries over to the football field and that's one reason way I feel he's going to be a good offensive lineman," said Stadler. "He's like having a coach on the field. On film sometimes you'll see him directing traffic [before plays]. He's got his head up, he's aware of blitzers, [and] he understands the game."

For Rockingham County, Ward starts at both right tackle and nose guard.

A former offensive lineman himself, Stadler is tough with his offensive lineman grades. However, Ward graded out at 87-percent, while being credited for 13 pancake blocks.

Defensively, Ward collected 32 tackles including four for a loss, forced four fumbles, and blocked three kicks in limited reps.

On the collegiate level, Ward could play just about anywhere on both sides of the line, according to Stadler, but would be best suited on offense – specifically guard.

"If he were to play defense, I think he could possibly be a three-technique in a 4-3 scheme," said Stadler. "I think he needs to get a lot stronger and he needs to play lower. Defensive lineman have to have a different kind of motor. Personally, and this isn't a knock on Justin, I don't think he has the motor that they're looking for on that side. "I think – because of his intellect, his potential for growth – he could be a guard. He could easily be 310-315 [pounds] and still be agile and athletic. He can pull [and] he can get out in front. He could play tackle, but he might not be tall enough. In college football today they have [tackles] on the roster at 6-7, 6-8."

With his love of hoops and considering the state in which he was raised, it's not surprising that Ward is a huge fan of the Tar Heels.

"I've always been a fan of North Carolina in football, also in basketball," said Ward. "I grew up watching them as a kid and since I can remember they've always won."

While UNC got a late start on recruiting Ward, they are starting to pick up the pace.

"It has picked up more this semester," said Ward. "I'm starting to receive letters at home on a regular basis telling me about the program and about stuff their building new."

In addition to UNC, Ward is fielding interest from schools all over.

"Mostly, [I'm hearing from] schools around the ACC," said Ward. "I've heard from Wake Forest, Duke, North Carolina State, North Carolina, [and] Clemson. Around the nation I'm hearing from Auburn, South Carolina, Notre Dame, Penn State, and Alabama."

At one point, Ward did have a scholarship on the table, but that has since been rescinded.

"Before Coach [Chuck] Amato from N.C. State was released, State did offer," said Ward. "[The new staff] told me they're still in the process of evaluating me so they'll have to get to know me a little better, come to camp with them and we'll go from there."

Most schools fall into the category of wanting to work with Ward in their camp first before offering. Ward is considering attending camps at Clemson, Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State, Penn State, and Wake Forest.

A week ago, Ward took an unofficial visit to Raleigh to get a closer look at N.C. State. Most of Ward's time was spent with members of the Wolfpack coaching staff.

"I talked to Coach [Don] Horton, the offensive line coach, and also talked to Coach Jason Swepson, which is my recruiting coordinator," said Ward. "They had a lot of good things to say. They watched me on film, liked some things I do and critiqued some things I'm not doing so good. I really enjoyed talking to both of them."

Since his freshman year, Ward has unofficially visited the campuses of Clemson, Duke, N.C. State, and Wake Forest in some shape or form. Before the spring is over, Ward hopes to make trips to Alabama, Duke, North Carolina and South Carolina.

With it being so early in the process, Ward is approaching his recruitment slowly.

"I like all of them," said Ward. "I'm just pretty much interested in whoever I hear from – whoever is interested in me."

Ward doesn't figure to make a decision until later in the year.

"I'm hoping [to make a decision] maybe right before second semester of my senior year," said Ward. "I hope to go to a lot of games during the football season, get a feel for the atmosphere at all the schools."

Come decision time, education is first and foremost.

"I've always dreamed of playing in the NFL," said Ward. "I'll still pursue it once I go to college, but the odds of going aren't that great. So the first thing you need is an education and the degree you can get from the school, so what you can do after you get out of college is the main thing. You want to go to a school with a good name and reputation."

Justin Ward

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