TXHS Combine Preview: Greg Ward Jr.

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Photo via Jamie Rhodes, USA TODAY Sports

 

The dreaded term “undersized” is an adjective that athletes loathe, hindering a prospects capabilities at the next level, regardless of a body of work. As many “undersized” competitors do, Greg Ward Jr. transformed himself into a food disposal, consuming meals or snacks every two-to- three hours while nourishing himself with water and protein shakes; he sent pictures to Houston team nutritionists to keep tabs on his progress. The clean calories investment worked in his collegiate career, graduating from UH as one of the most decorated quarterbacks in school history.

In Texas high school football, Ward Jr. threw for a total 7,798 yards, 71 touchdowns on only 10 interceptions in his final two seasons with Tyler John Tyler, leading his team to Class 4A semifinal appearances in 2011 and ’12. Power Five schools sent scouts in droves to watch the 3-star recruit, but the FBS programs envisioned him as a cornerback or slot receiver with his versatility and speed; even the Cougars listed him as a DB.

Because of his experience at wide receiver as a sophomore – recording 53 receptions for 667 yards for eight touchdowns – Ward Jr. accepted a position as a combination quarterback-receiver as a freshman for the Cougars, but took over the starting duties his last eight games of his sophomore year. His development as a passer was seen in the Armed Forces Bowl, where the Cougars rallied from a deficit behind 25-points in the fourth quarter to win the school’s first major bowl appearance in three decades.

The acquisition of coach Tom Herman in January 2015 caused Ward Jr. to reinvent himself behind the center, improving his ability to make every read and check; once antsy at the line of scrimmage, and fleeing at the first sign of pressure, he stayed in the pocket longer. After dieting, he put on 20+ pounds of weight and as a result, his junior campaign was one of the best in school history: Ward Jr. threw for 2,828 yards and rushed for 1,108 – the only quarterback other than Clemson’s DeShaun Watson to reach the 2k passing yards/1k rushing yards combination that year.

Houston’s no-huddle offense averaged 40.4 points and attained a 13-1 record, besting Florida State in the Peach Bowl. Talk escalated concerning coach Herman’s potential to takeover P5 options in Austin or Baton Rouge – media distractions that also put mounting pressure on the AAC leaders to run the table for a potential CFP bid.

Ward Jr.’s final season started off with an upset victory over Oklahoma, but a nagging shoulder injury suffered against the Sooners may have attributed to the volume of turnovers; a year removed from throwing six interceptions, the senior lobbed a career high 13, including two thrown in the NFLPA Bowl and four picks in the Las Vegas Bowl.

An ankle injury limited the Cougars’ senior in the pocket longer: Ward Jr. threw for a career-high 3,557 yards and 22 touchdowns last season, but had just 518 rushing yards and ten touchdowns. Despite coach Major Applewhite’s game plan calling for runs or read options, Ward Jr. attempted to keep the play alive behind the line of scrimmage with the intention of throwing the ball, but limited the run game to a measly 99th most rushing yards in the FBS.

In his career with Houston, the Tyler native compiled 8,704 passing yards for 52 touchdowns alongside 2,381 rushing yards for 39 scores. He finishes his career third in total offense behind Keenum and Kolb; top five in passing yards (8,476), passing touchdowns (52) and completions (699); his 2,372 rushing yards are the most of any UH quarterback and his high-volume of rushing touchdowns (39) are tied for most at the position.

Because of his diminutive size (5’11”, 188 lbs.) and habit of playing like a receiver when rushing, Ward Jr. will workout as a WR at the combine. As well as high school experience, he hauled in 25 receptions for 228 yards for two touchdowns at UH, returning 11 punts for 69 yards.

 

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