DANVILLE — Four years ago, Danville coach Marcus Forrest was warned about an incoming freshman football player John Ward.
“I was told that he had anger problems,’’ Forrest said. “According to his family, he didn’t like losing and he would act out.’’
Obviously, that’s how Ward got his nickname of “Bear.”
He actually was given that moniker before he was ever born.
“It’s something that I try not to tell people,’’ said Ward, who eventually revealed the true story. “When my mom was pregnant with me, she claimed that I kicked her a lot, so she would call me her snookabear. When I was born, the rest of my family just took the snooka out of it and I’ve been Bear ever since.’’
And what about when you went to school?
“It was instant,’’ Ward said. “When I got into preschool, I told my teachers to call me Bear. It was the same way when I started kindergarten. I was always kind of a popular kid, so everyone just knew me as Bear.’’
The nickname has stuck, so much so, that Ward recently got a letter from the Colorado State football program and it was addressed to “Bear Ward.”
“That really surprised me,’’ he said. “I’m used to only people in Danville calling me Bear.’’
This season, his nickname seems to fit his play on the field.
Ward has been a real force from his defensive end position with 20 tackles, which is second on the team, to go along with two tackles for a loss and two sacks. He also has two quarterback hurries.
“He is having his best season in his senior year and he continues to get better,’’ Forrest said. “He is a central part to what we do.’’
But, Ward didn’t start playing defensive end at the varsity level until this year. He was a linebacker during his sophomore and junior seasons.
“I actually played defensive end during my freshman year and I thought that I did really good at it,’’ Ward said. “It was always in the back of my mind, that I could play there if we needed someone.’’
Danville didn’t have a need for a defensive end two years ago as seniors Day’Lin Davis-Williams and Julian Pearl were locked into those spots and last year, it was another pair of seniors, Dalton Williamson and Caius Coon.
So, what happened this summer?
“Coach and I talked about moving me to either defensive end or insider linebacker,’’ Ward said. “As soon as he said defensive end, it was a no-brainer for me. I knew instantly that I wanted to play defensive end.’’
But, why do you like defensive end more than linebacker?
“Because that’s where the action starts,’’ he said. “Without a solid defensive line, the entire defense will break down. I want to be that person that sets the defense up to be successful.
“I also feel like I can contribute more and I get the opportunity to get my hands on the offensive lineman more.’’
Physical play is part of the excitement for Ward.
“I really didn’t like playing linebacker, because you had to read the play before you could react,’’ he said. “Now, as soon as the ball is snapped, I’m punching an offensive lineman. I then read it and go make a play.’’
Senior linebacker Bennie Harris, who has played alongside of Ward the past two years, admits he is a different player this season.
“You can tell that he likes it a lot,’’ Harris said. “He is really involved in every play and he is our best defensive line. It’s been a really good spot for him.’’
Ward is also a starter at tight end for the Vikings, and he filled in at offensive guard in the season opener against Bloomington.
“I don’t think I’m wide enough to play guard,’’ said Ward, who is 6-foot and 190 pounds. “I’m better suited to play tight end, and it’s a lot like playing defensive end.’’
The fact that Ward was willing to play offensive guard for the Vikings is something that his coaches admire about the senior.
“He is one of the most dependable, and hard-working kids that we’ve had in this program in a long time,’’ Forrest said. “He never complains. He works hard. He takes care of his grades and he stays out of trouble.
“He is one of the kids that you want model all the other kids after. We tell the kids all of the time, if you do good things, good things will happen and people will do good things for you. Bear is the model for that.’’
Ward is one of the best students on the Danville football team with a 3.8 grade-point average, according to Forrest, and he does it while also working a part-time job at Penn Station East Coast Subs.
So, how does Ward juggle school, playing a sport and having a job?
Very well, according to Forrest.
“It’s taught me a lot,’’ said Ward, who started working in February. “It’s given me a sense of what it’s going to be like when I become an adult.
“I’m learning to manage my time and I’m making sure that I stick to a budget.’’
Getting the job was a product of wanting to earn his own money.
“I like to go out with my friends and buy things on my own,’’ he said. “There were times that my mom just didn’t have money for me to spend. I decided I needed to get a job and make my own money.
“I knew if couldn’t conflict with my school time and I feel more confident about myself when I do leave home and go to college next year. I’ve already had to learn about budgeting my time and my money.’’
Ward has already figured out how to “Bear” down on his life.