In the days leading up to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, we will profile several of the players committed to play in the sixth annual showcase. Today, we feature Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr.
Before Greg Ward Jr. became known across the country as Houston’s electrifying quarterback, there were questions as to which position he would eventually play for the Cougars. As a 5-foot-10, 175-pound freshman, Ward looked more like a slot receiver – and that’s exactly where he started his collegiate career.
With his football skills too great to remain on the sideline, the backup quarterback lined up at wide receiver, where he ran routes to varying degrees of success, totaling 271 total yards and three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving).
The uncertainty stretched to his sophomore year, as he started the first five games at receiver and saw moderate success (15 catches for 138 yards and a score). However, with Houston sitting at 2-2, the program made the decision to hand the quarterback reins over to Ward, and in his first start, he delivered on their vote of confidence with an incredible upset, leading the Cougars to a 28-24 victory over then-No. 25 Memphis.
In that game, Ward threw the game-winning touchdown and added 95 more yards on the ground, including an impressive 64-yard scoring run. It would be the first of three straight wins for the sophomore quarterback, culminating in a memorable comeback win over Pitt in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, when he led the charge from a 25-point deficit to a to 35-34 win.
Fittingly, Ward launched himself into the national spotlight in his junior season, as Houston started off with a bang by winning its first ten games. In fact, the Cougars would not lose a single start by Ward, as their only loss came against Connecticut when Ward was sidelined by an ankle injury.
Perhaps emboldened by their unfortunate loss, Ward followed that up with one of the best games of his career, throwing for a season-high 308 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions while completing nearly 75 percent of his passes against then-No. 18 Navy. He also rushed for 83 yards and a score in the victory.
Ward capped his breakout junior year with a bowl win against then-No. 14 Florida State in the Peach Bowl behind a masterful performance. Despite facing a formidable Seminoles defense, Ward calmly threw for 238 yards and a touchdown and took advantage of running lanes to rush for 67 yards and two scores. When Florida State threatened to close the gap late in the fourth, he calmly led the Cougars to a touchdown to seal the win and become one of two players to register over 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in the nation that season.
By his senior year, Ward’s transformation into a stud quarterback was complete. His experience at wide receiver may have benefited his ability to go through progressions and find the open man, as he had by far his best statistical season. Despite missing a game against Lamar, Ward finished with 3,557 yards and 22 scores through the air and no longer put his body at risk by running it quite so often. His decisions to air it out more rather than scramble benefited the team as a whole — but his speed and quickness were still there when he needed them, as evidenced by his 518 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
As has been customary for him, Ward also helped knock off two top-15 teams, defeating then-No. 7 Oklahoma in a 33-23 win that was not nearly as close as the score indicated and outplaying eventual Heisman winner Lamar Jackson in a 36-10 win over Louisville.
And though it came in a loss, Ward, Jr. was at his best against Memphis. He completed more than 70 percent of his 67 pass attempts against the Tigers, and threw for a career-high 487 yards and four touchdowns. He also added 65 yards rushing as he helped Houston overcome a 34-17 halftime deficit to briefly take the lead in the fourth quarter before falling short.
Ward may have arrived at Houston as an athlete whose place was uncertain on the gridiron, but by the end of his storied collegiate career, he has become a quarterback with incredible value and who deserves to have the ball in his hands on every play.
– David Chough
NFLPA Collegiate Bowl Analyst