A Father's Love|
Eric Ward's journey to Texas Tech and his stellar career in Lubbock centers around family.
Nov. 16, 2013
by Britton Drown
The decision to play football at Texas Tech wasn't one that came easily to Eric Ward. It wasn't one he made alone either.
Late in his career at Rider High School in Wichita Falls with an unfamiliar avenue suddenly open, the highly sought after receiver turned to his girlfriend Kenzie. The challenge for the two lay in that college, and certainly football at that level, wasn't originally in Ward's foresight. So with the one person who has been at his side throughout his football career, Ward and Kenzie began writing a previously unscripted chapter to their lives.
"I had never heard of college," Ward said.
No, education and football beyond high school was a new twist to the story of life for Eric and Kenzie. It wasn't until his coach Scott Ponder found him after practice three seasons into his career at Rider that the idea of college was first introduced.
See, Ward was gifted at cutting hair. He wanted to be a barber in his hometown, and was talented enough to pursue that as a career.
"I didn't really have any plans," he said. "That was the only thing I was good at. That was my outlet, and all I knew."
When Ponder found Ward that day after practice and the two started to discuss playing football at the college level, his future suddenly came into a new focus.
After improving his grades and continuing to stand out on the field, Texas Tech and Oklahoma quickly became the top-two schools Ward set his sights on.
But it wasn't an easy choice. So he and Kenzie made a list, together, as they tried to imagine what the two schools could offer.
Ward knew what Tech had to offer. A school with a reputation for its passing offense, a place where receivers flourish -- Michael Crabtree, Wes Welker and Danny Amendola already graced the record books and went on to find success in the NFL.
After signing with Texas Tech, he wanted to be next.
It's his senior season now. The Eric Ward story is nearing its end, and it's one that has left its mark both on the field and in the record books. Ward's name can already be found beside those receivers whom he once feared would overshadow any success he could obtain himself in Lubbock.
After catching more than 200 passes, Ward has already jumped into the top-five all time at Texas Tech. He's also in the top-10 in receiving yards with more than 2,500, and in the top-5 in career touchdowns.
Furthermore, he is one of only two players in Texas Tech history with at least 11 touchdown receptions in back-to-back seasons after catching 11 in 2011, and 12 in the following year.
Looking back, it's been an impressive journey for Ward and Kenzie. The two were married in 2011, have one son, Jayric and are expecting a second in January. Ward already has his degree in Human Development and Family Studies and is close to completing his Master's Degree.
And on the field?
"I never thought it would end up like this," he said. "Being in the race to be the leading receiver in school history. Taking into account all of the players that played here through the years, and being in the top-10, or being No. 1, is astonishing."
But it would not be astonishing to many who are familiar with Texas Tech football and the story of Eric Ward. For those who are close to Ward, they understand where his leadership, work ethic and incredible balance in life come from.
It all stems from a little boy named Jayric.
For Ward, it all comes back to his son. The senior can often be found inside the Texas Tech Football Training Facility bragging and smiling about Jayric and his wife Kenzie. Jayric, Ward says, looks up to Eric as his father the football player.
Ward routinely tells teammates and reporters how Jayric and Kenzie watch his games on TV together, and how often they will watch the replay of the game as a family days afterward.
"My son brings me a lot of joy," Ward said.
But Ward sees himself as Eric, the father.
Jayric was born in June 2010 on the heels of Ward's redshirt season at Texas Tech, before he had a single reception or touchdown as a Red Raider. It was then that Ward made the decision to become something to his son that he never had himself.
"I never had that father figure in my life," Ward said. "I didn't know where to start."
But he knew where he wanted to end up. Sure, he strived for a successful career as a player, but even more so he wanted to be a successful father.
"I want my son to know I care about him, and that I will always be there for him," Ward said. "As long as I live, I just want him to know his dad cared about him, and that he did everything he could in his power to provide a better life for him."
It took some time, but Ward credits his leadership in the locker room and on the field to the process of understanding how to be a strong father and husband.
"I had to start with myself," he said. "I had to learn from my mistakes and mold myself into a leader and a father."
After playing in 11 games with one start in 2010, Ward jumped onto the scene as one of the top receivers in the conference in 2011 leading the Red Raiders with 84 catches.
He did it again in 2012 with 90 catches for more than 1,100 yards. Ward credits much of his football success to his maturity with which he gained from the lessons of fatherhood.
"I've tried to be the best role model that I can be to my son," he said. "And it just carries over into football."
Ward had the opportunity to declare for the NFL Draft following that stellar junior campaign in 2012. However, with the opportunity to complete his Master's Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and return to a team with a new, energetic coaching staff led by Kliff Kingsbury, he stayed at Tech.
With that decision, he has remained one of the top receivers in the country and continues to climb the career charts at Tech with a strong 2013 campaign.
Ward's five-year career at Texas Tech will certainly be remembered by Red Raider fans, but there is someone with whom Ward will share that pride with more than anybody.
"I just want my sons, if they grow up and decide to go to Texas Tech to say `Hey, my dad went there," Ward said. "And for them to remember me as their dad."