MACEDONIA, Ohio --The Browns selection of Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward as their No. 4 pick inspired a wide range of emotions for teachers, coaches and students at Nordonia High School where the 20-year-old was an All-State football player and champion on the track.
"I was scared, you know, honestly; it's a lot of pressure to put on a young man. He's coming home, I mean, and there's going to be a lot of people that expect him to do great things," said Rob Eckenrode, athletic administrator.
Ward's highlight reel for the Nordonia Knights was must-see TV on FOX 8's Friday Night Touchdown during his senior season in the fall of 2014.
At Nordonia, they like to say "Denzel is a video game on the field," and his speed and his play-making ability caught the attention of the coaches at Ohio State, where the young man from Macedonia became a First Team All-American.
"It's a testament to his athletic ability; I mean, he's got God-given talent that we could see here. I mean even when he was in 7th and 8th grade," Eckenrode said.
Ward's amazing transformation from 135 pound freshman to first round NFL draftee was shaped, in part, by his coaches and teammates but most importantly, a loving and supportive family.
His family suffered a heartbreaking loss in 2016 when his father, Paul Ward Jr., a principal in the Bedford School District, died unexpectedly at the age of 46.
“It was definitely an emotional night. I obviously wish that my dad was still alive and could have been there to experience that with my family and me, but I know he is proud of me and he watched last night in heaven," Ward told the media in Berea on Friday.
"I'm sure that there's a little bit inside him that wants to make his dad proud every day," Eckenrode said.
The Nordonia community is convinced that Ward, who turns 21 on Saturday, can help transform the Browns with his talent and energy.
"The coaches always tell us that when they talk about Denzel that he was always a guy who showed up to work every day and didn't cut corners, so I think he's going to be great for the Browns," said Robby Levak, Nordonia junior.
The late Paul Ward used to tell his sons: “Make them know your name.” When he died suddenly two years ago, they named a street after him for his work as a principal in Bedford, Ohio just outside Cleveland.
— UNINTERRUPTED (@uninterrupted) April 27, 2018