John Tyler’s all-state senior quarterback Greg Ward exudes confidence for the championship contending Lions.
The swagger stems as much from Ward’s winning pedigree to the way he eludes defenders and includes an array of players in the Lions’ high-powered offense.
With Ward on the field, JT’s chances naturally increase, as the Lions’ 32-7 record as a three-year varsity starter indicate.
The numbers describe even more, with Ward fresh off his latest district title in high school after last week’s thrilling 45-38 win over Whitehouse when he accounted for 465 yards and five touchdowns.
Ward would trade all the individual accolades — first-team all-state and All-East Texas offensive player of the year honors among many — for JT’s first state title in 18 years. With Ward on the roster, JT fell in the state quarterfinals his sophomore season and in the state semifinals last year.
“We’re playing with a bigger chip on our shoulder,” said Ward, who led JT to a national 7-on-7 title over the summer. “We know that the last two years we came close and came up short. This year we can go all the way.”
Ward’s varsity career rivals any offensive player in JT’s storied history, one that features 8,644 yards and 95 TDs (62 passing, 27 rushing, 6 receiving), along with eight postseason wins.
Ward wrapped up a stellar regular season with 2,997 yards of total offense and 35 total touchdowns. Ward tops JT rushing with 531 yards, stepping off a season-high 147 against Whitehouse.
The passing statistics jump off the charts, with Ward completing 70 percent of his attempts (156 of 222) for 2,466 yards, 28 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Ward enters the postseason on a 15-game streak without an interception, a run featuring five playoff contests from last year when Ward connected on 78 percent of his passes and threw for 1,406 yards and 11 TDs.
“It comes from athletic ability and preparation,” JT head coach Ricklan Holmes said of Ward, who has thrown 356 passes, 39 for TDs, since last being picked off in the 2011 regular season finale. “This is his third year on the varsity level. He understands this offense and knows what to do to get it going in the direction it’s been going. He understands he can’t have the big mistakes on offense.”
Ward ranks first on his coach’s list of preferred quarterbacks, despite not being the tallest at 6-0 and possibly shorter, or the biggest at 170 pounds and perhaps even lighter.
“Not in the state of Texas, not in America,” Holmes said of the University of Houston commit. “I think he’s probably one of the best quarterbacks in high school football right now. I know there are some quarterbacks that have put up more prolific numbers than him, as far as yardage and touchdown passes, but as far as taking control of a game, motivating and controlling your offense, I wouldn’t take anyone else.”
With JT down 24-0 to Whitehouse, Ward went 6 for 6 to engineer a seven-play, 63-yard drive spanning 76-seconds to make it a two-touchdown game before halftime.
Ward completed his final 19 passes in the come-from-behind win against Whitehouse. But his feet make him the complete package. Ward scampered 54 yards for a game-tying score. He factored into 12 gains of 20-plus yards in the district-championship clinching victory, JT’s fourth consecutive.
“We were able to pull it out because of our heart and mindset,” said Ward, who has been part of seven district championship teams in high school, one on the freshmen and junior varsity levels, and five on varsity. “In the second half we played as a team.”
Only a state championship keeps Ward from being in the same sentence with JT offensive legends such as Earl Campbell, and in the quarterback conversation with the Morris Anderson. Campbell led JT to the 1973 title while Anderson captained JT’s last state champion in 1994.
Ward wants the 2012 Lions to add their name to the championship list. JT’s postseason run begins Friday against Waxahachie at Garland’s Homer B. Johnson, the same location the 1994 team began its playoff journey.
“We have to bring our A-plus game,” said Ward, who has tossed TD passes to six different players. “I know everyone else will, that’s why they’re in the playoffs. We’re not going to let up. We’re going to fight to the end, from the start to the finish.”
LIONS’ TALES: Tickets to the John Tyler-Waxahachie bi-district playoff can be purchased through 4 p.m. today and through 1 p.m. Friday at the Tyler ISD athletic office (807 W. Glenwood). Presale tickets cost $3 for students and $6 for adults. General admission tickets at the gate cost $8. JT will be the visiting team. …The Lions donned older version of their Cujo jerseys during practice on Wednesday. JT will unveil a new version of the Cujo uniforms for Friday’s game. The Lions first wore the Cujo jerseys for the 1994 postseason, and have an overall record of 31-12 under their playoff alter-ego.