Reborn Ward Expects Big Things on Defense

According to several Texas Tech coaches and players sophomore safety Keenon Ward is destined for big things. interviewed him recently for some insight into how Ward has progressed swiftly despite moving to a position he had no prior experience playing.

Imagine going from playing quarterback at the west Texas 3A high school level to playing safety in the Big 12 your very next year of actual football. Not only does the competition become immeasurably stiffer, but you’re learning a totally new position and moving from offense to defense in the process. Needless to say, the switch would be both dizzying and daunting.

That change, however, is exactly what confronted sophomore safety Keenon Ward last season. And while he certainly had his struggles—particularly in coverage—Ward actually started three games, recorded 32 tackles, three pass breakups, four passes defended, a forced fumble and an interception. All in all, not too shabby for a freshman and former 3A quarterback playing safety for the first time in his life.

Nevertheless, Ward admits that it was a rough row to hoe.

“It was pretty tough, especially since I hadn't ever played safety,” Ward allows. “I was learning a new position. It was a different environment. In the Big 12 it’s the best of the best so coming in at safety it was pretty tough. I feel like I've grown at that position and I’m so much better than I was last year. “

And it’s not just Ward who’s noticed the improvement. No less a player than Bandit linebacker Pete Robertson stated that, "If we had had an MVP in the spring, it would have been Keenon Ward."

For observers of west Texas high school football, and those who have observed Ward in workouts at Texas Tech, there has never been any doubt about his athletic ability. As a senior he was district 5-3A MVP, and as a quarterback rushed for 1,769 yards and 23 touchdowns. Ward also has good football genes; his father’s half brother is former Big Spring star, Miami Hurricane and NFL Pro Bowler Daniel “Bubba” Franks.

The whole issue for Ward was making that tough switch from high school signal caller to Big 12 safety. But entering his sophomore campaign, Ward believes the transition is complete.

“I feel like it’s a complete 180,” he says with evident feeling. “I feel so much more comfortable. I can go out there and tell everybody what they’re supposed to be doing on top of what I’m doing and I can do that at a high speed now. That gives me the confidence to go out and make plays, and I feel better. I feel like a true safety.”

A big part of Ward’s increased comfort level stems, of course, from greater experience at the safety position. But of perhaps equal importance, both to Ward and the defense in general, is the schematic continuity that comes with actually having the same defensive coordinator and coaching staff two years in a row. This is a rare thing at Tech.

“I feel like just being able to go into the spring with the same defense helps us, makes us more confident because we’re used to learning a new install every year” Ward reports. “I mean, that’s tough. But having the same defense obviously you’re gonna learn that faster, I mean you’re gonna learn it better. You’re not gonna have to forget it. I mean it’s there. We’re gonna be able to teach the young players because we already know it, and I feel like having the same defense is pretty important. I mean, that’s something we haven’t had and having it this year, you’ll see the difference.”

In this case, difference is a very good thing. And the most “different” player on the Tech defense in 2014 could very well be Keenon Ward.

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