“It's certainly a change,” said Na Derris Ward of his new home in Athens. "Coming from California across the country - it's was a lot. But the change is for the better. I am loving Georgia. I am really glad to be here."
Every major college football program in the country was recruiting Ward, so his high school coach encouraged him to send his high school footage to schools he was interested in, including Georgia. Ward indicated that he wanted to know more about the Bulldogs – and after coaches at Georgia saw his play and offered, Ward committed to the Dawgs.
The former four-star tight end grew up in Oakland and graduated from McClymonds High School, where he had 45 catches for 850 yards and five touchdowns in his career. Ward helped his offensive line pave the way those seasons for two different tailbacks to rush for over 1,000 yards each year. He also played defense his senior year and recorded 7.5 sacks.
Ward was one of Georgia’s highest-rated recruits in the Class of 2006. Scout.com rated him as the number three tight end in the country. But now Ward is listed at the bottom of Georgia’s tight end depth chart, which is quite a change. As is the change from high school football to the college level.
“Wow, the intensity is totally different,” Ward said. "Everything is at a fast psce. Everyone here is good. Everyone here is challanging you. You can never slack - you have to go hard every drill every day."
Ward is in the mold of recent Georgia tight ends – big and tall. He’s 6-5, 245 pounds, and will likely get fitter as the season and his career moves on. Ward was one of the few true freshmen who were not able to make it to all of Georgia’s summer conditioning. Like Kade Weston last year, Ward did not graduate high school until late June, and could not enroll or participate until after the Fourth of July.
“I wish I had been one of the early enrollees. I think I could have gotten more established with the coaches and know the playbook more,” he said of getting to school in July.
“He can really run well, has got giant paws and can really snatch the ball. Everything you are looking for in a tight end, he’s got it,” said head coach Mark Richt of his newest weapon at tight end.
Ward still has a mountain to climb in order to get onto the gridiron this fall. As the fifth tight end on campus, Ward will likely sit out this season unless he has a stellar August and works his was onto a top special teams unit.
“Right now I am going to compete and fight, and we will see what happens after that,” Ward said.