Leading a team to success is nothing new for Ward
Greg Ward had been here before.
The sophomore was the starting receiver and punt returner for UH prior to ascending to quarterback and igniting a slumping offense with 580 yards in three starts. But before Ward joined the Cougars, he was in a similar position in high school.
He went from a sophomore receiver to a junior quarterback, who then led John Tyler High School to the Class 4A Division I state semifinals in consecutive seasons.
Even though he was a skilled position player in high school and college, Ward said always wanted to return to his first love.
“Quarterback was my first position since I was 8 years old,” Ward said. “It stuck with me all my life and I’ve dedicated myself to the position. And I work hard.”
Only this time he wasn’t taking over a powerhouse program with a full offseason to transition to the position. Ward hadn’t taken snaps at quarterback in practice and didn’t participate with the signal callers in film study.
Plus, the Cougars were under .500 and headed toward a tough road contest against Memphis and the meat of their American Athletic Conference schedule.
However,Ward said that he didn’t feel the weight of the season on his shoulders — he was embraced by teammates following a 17-12 loss to UCF, where he came inches short of scoring the game winning touchdown.
“My team was all behind me. Everybody was gathering around me and telling me that ‘we’re behind you and we’re family. We’ve got this.’ So that helped me a lot to build my confidence,” Ward said.
The team’s confidence in Ward proved fruitful.
In his three games as starter, all wins, he has tossed four touchdowns compared to only one interception and is completing 76 percent of his passes.
Sophomore defensive end Tyus Bowser had a front row seat while Ward threw for more 4,202 passing yards and 39 touchdowns as a senior and led John Tyler to a 24-6 record in two seasons as starter. Bowser even chased Ward around as a preteen, when the two competed against each other in middle school.
So he wasn’t surprised that Ward came in and succeeded immediately.
“I know that’s Greg. I’ve been seeing it for so long,” Bowser said. “It’s really nothing new to me, but it does excite me to see him out there doing it again.”
Ward’s success hasn’t been an accident. He provides a different dimension to an offense that was struggling to find a consistent winning formula before he was inserted as starter.
Teams have to commit another defender to stopping Ward. That could mean a safety who would typically double junior receiver Deontay Greenberry or a linebacker committed to covering a running back out of the backfield is instead used to spy Ward.
Receivers are more likely to see single coverage and running backs have one less member of the opposing front seven to account for.
“You’ll see some runs where the linebackers and defensive linemen may be playing a little slow because they’re watching him, and it helps open up some things on the inside,” said offensive coordinator Travis Bush.
“He has put some pressure on defenses, and they got to respect what he can do. Right now, he’s making great decisions with the football. The guys are really rallying around him.”
But the coaching staff is impressed with more than Ward’s physical gifts — his leadership and poise have piqued the interest of head coach Tony Levine.
“There were times on the headset when we would question his decision, and on video when we would question his decision — then when we talked to Greg about it, he gave us a great answer, a veteran answer as to why he threw it to this teammate and not another teammate,” Levine said.