An explosive runner who helped turn the Chippewas from a one-win team in 2018 to an eight-win team in 2019, Central Michigan running back Jonathan Ward joined the NFLPA Bowl Spotlight Show. His performance this past season earned him an invitation to the ninth annual NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, which will be played held at the historic Rose Bowl Stadium on January 18th, 2020.
Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? When did you begin playing football and when did you realize that you have a passion for the game of football?
I grew up in Kankakee, Illinois, about 40 minutes south of Chicago. Small town. I started playing at a young age of four. I realized my passion for the game once I scored my first touchdown. It has just always been a way to escape from real world problems for me. I feel like the game teaches you life lessons in so many ways. The biggest one is that there is no one-man army; in order to be successful, you must be a unit and move as one.
When a NFL scout pops in your game film, what type of player should they expect to see?
A hard-nosed player who has love for the game. I feel as if I am a three-down back that can pass protect, catch out of the backfield and run between the tackles. I would also be labeled as a versatile player that can make production from anywhere on the field. Whether that be from slot, wide out, special teams. A natural leader and student of the game that is dedicated to the team.
What was your offseason like heading into 2019, what areas of your game did you work on to improve upon?
Pass protection and being able to see the play develop before the snap. I also wanted to improve on my route running ability from the slot as well as just becoming a better player/teammate overall.
What type of leadership intangibles do you bring to the table? Explain your leadership style.
I am a leader of few words. I choose to lead through actions rather than words. I am the leader who sets the standard for the program. The expectations can be said but if they are not seen, then is there any progress really being made? I lead by either pushing someone to be better or pulling them along. But either way, if you’re a part of the team, then you will be part of the progress.
Name a point during your college career when you had to overcome adversity. What did you learn from that experience?
During the 2018 football season, being nationally ranked as the worst team in FBS, dealing with injuries and not producing like we planned. I learned that it’s not about how adversity hits you; it’s about how you respond to it. Everyone goes through trials and tribulations, but pressure can burst pipes or pressure can make diamonds. Anything that prospers through adversity is rare to find.
What was it like growing up in your hometown? Did you live any other places?
Kankakee is the only place I’ve lived before going off to college, so that is all I know really, besides Mount Pleasant. To most people, it’s a place in the middle of nowhere. But to me, it’s just like any other place. I feel like growing up, you have good parts and rougher parts. Kankakee is a place with not many opportunities, so when you get one, you just run with it as long as you can.
Who has been the toughest opponent you have faced thus far in your career, either overall team or an individual? How did you fare?
The toughest team I’ve faced overall would be Wyoming in the Idaho Potato Bowl. Just all-around tough players that played with grit and all 11 flew to the ball. They played with emotion the whole game every play. It wasn’t the worst game I played, but it was probably the most physical one by far. Every tackle, it was at least three people in on the play.
What is something people might not know about you or something that separates you from other players?
Something that separates me from other players is that I play with a chip on my shoulder. I feel like when I play I’m playing for all the kids that are over looked and just need a shot. I’m never content. I feel like there is always room for improvement in some aspect of my game. I also have a passion for cooking and fishing. I want to own a chain of restaurants someday.
If you could bring one teammate with you, who would you bring?
*The ninth annual NFLPA Collegiate Bowl will be held on Saturday, January 18th at the historic Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Be sure to tune-in on NFL Network at 7pm eastern time!