Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illini's Ward Taken in Round 2 by Raiders

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illini's Ward Taken in Round 2 by Raiders

Article excerpt

At the University of Illinois, Jihad Ward wore jersey number 17 because that's how old his mother was when he was born. NFL rules won't allow him to wear that number in his new job defensive lineman for the Oakland Raiders.

But just stepping on the field in the pros will be a daily reminder of how far he has come. The Raiders selected Ward midway through the second round, No. 44 overall, on Friday.

Nothing came easy growing up for Ward, who played in junior college at Globe Institute of Technology in New York City before finding his way to Champaign, where he was a two-year starter for the Illini.

"I still have that mindset with me," Ward told Raiders reporters via conference call. "I still have it. I still act like I am in JUCO. I just keep grinding, keep staying uncomfortable. And staying uncomfortable is staying focused.

"Every day, my mindset is just that it isn't over. I still will push myself to where I need to be to this day."

Ward played wide receiver and defensive back as a high school player in his hometown of Philadelphia, but has since grown into a 6- foot-5, 297-pound defensive lineman. Ward played end at Illinois, but also slid inside to the "three-technique" spot.

He will bring that kind of versatility to the Raiders. Inside or outside, it doesn't matter to Ward.

"It really isn't nothing different," Ward said at the NFL Scouting Combine. "All you're doing is just getting off the ball. Once you get off the ball, you just disrupt the offense."

Athletic but still considered raw by NFL standards, Ward helped his cause with a strong showing at the Senior Bowl.

"It was just a great experience being over there," Ward said. "My (Illinois) defensive line coach Mike Phair said, 'Just go in there and do what you do.' I've been taught a lot by that man. Thank God he's in my corner."

Ward was watching the draft Friday night at Phair's house with his fellow Illinois defensive linemen when the Raiders called.

"I was patiently waiting for the phone call, and my heart kept beating every time it rang," Ward said. "It didn't matter what round the call came in as long as I am in there. I am stuck with it. I am stuck with the Raiders. It didn't matter if it was the third or fourth round. …

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