Ward finds new meaning in football

Amy Carton
Michael Ward (left) battles with a Millikin player during game action for Greenville College.

His path to a senior season of football took him in an unexpected direction, but Geneseo’s Michael Ward is ready to hit the field one more time and isn’t taking anything for granted.

Ward, a senior outside linebacker for Greenville College, was a member of the Greenville team for three years until the 2012 season when he was led in a different direction — to Rwanda.

“I took a year off from football to study abroad in Rwanda, and I am really thankful for that time,” he said. “Looking back, it was a crazy turn of events that I felt really comfortable with. I heard about the abroad program from friends who said it changed their lives and impacted their faith.

“I was looking for something different, and I always wanted to study abroad. I wouldn’t trade those five months for anything.”

While in Rwanda, Ward had the opportunity to think about if he would return to the football team for his senior season, which wasn’t as easy of a decision as he once thought.

“I didn’t see myself playing another year because I saw the big picture and what was beyond football. It broadened my horizons. I came to the conclusion it was petty, sports in general, because so many weren’t privileged to play over there and seeing the poverty in a tangible way made me think how spoiled I was,” he said. “Since then if many of the kids I met in Rwanda had a chance to play a sport at the level I have been given they would be so joyful and take full advantage. So for me not to do the same would be selfish in some regard.”

Ward said his time in Rwanda changed him and he now has a new approach to life and different philosophies and views, which he finds refreshing.

“I came back from Rwanda and everything was very overwhelming,” said Ward. “It took a four week period for me to decide if I wanted to play again. I realized since the age 6 or 7 I have loved playing football so the opportunity to play one final season just felt right. I think I would have regretted it if I didn’t come back. I love the game of football and I am able to bond with my family that comes to every game.

“My freshman year was tough, but also just truely great,” he said. “I can remember at camp thinking I couldn’t play college football because I wasn’t talented enough. I had an assistant coach affirm to me that I could do this, and the defensive coordinator told me everyone notices the way I practice there is no need for tape (with my name on it) on my helmet. That was the time when I felt a part of the team and I truely belonged at this place.”

In his sophomore year, he played in five games where he had two solo and four assisted tackles.

“I learned quite a bit about who I wanted to be and learned to become a leader and step into a new situation,” said Ward. “I was asked to be part of the leadership board on the team to help make decisions, and accepting that role really opened my eyes.”

During his junior season, Ward saw action in seven games where he had five solo and seven assisted tackles, and two tackles for a loss of 4 yards.

“(My junior season) was humbling because I had lofty expectations for myself, but not getting the time I wanted (on the field) I realized my role as a player didn’t have to be on the field, but a leader on the sidelines, field and campus,” he said. “Learning how to accept that role wasn’t the season I expected, but one I needed.”

Making the transition back into the football program and that football mentality was a bit overwhelming for Ward when he came back.

“The first meeting I walked into half the team didn’t know who I was and that was a shock because I was use to knowing people and friends,” he said. “Getting back into the weight room was tough, too. I was stunned how weak my body was at first, and I am surprised how quickly my body has responded back.”

A highlight of his time on the Greenville squad doesn’t include a life altering experience, but are just the times he spent with his teammates practicing.

While Ward faced some challenges over his time at Greenville, he said he never thought about walking away because of the program or football, but he felt it was a conflicting world view after the time he spent in Rwanda.

“It is about commitment over comfort,” he said. “The comfort was to leave my freshman year and say it wasn’t my thing, but I felt the program had committed to me and given me an opportunity I at least should be there for four years.

“I have no regrets at all. I wouldn’t change this experience. I have just fallen in love with Greenville College and a big part of that has been the football program. My approach to life is drastically different now that I have seen how football can be approached in a Biblical mind set.”

As Ward prepares for the 2013 season, he said he is excited for this year’s team with new coaches and a senior class which is full of leaders that lead by example.

“I am excited just to play football again,” he said. “It has been two years since I’ve had pads on, but my time away made me realize how much I love the game of football.

“I would like to thank everyone who supported me growing up in this community. Specifically to Bob Thomas, Elmer Reedy, Jim Glazier, Justin Snodgrass, Phil Paulson, Larry Johnsen Sr., Dean Johnson and Joe Mickley for investing so much into me throughout my football career. To Glen Anderson, thank you for the work you do in making Geneseo High School football an exceptional experience.

“Most importantly, I would like to thank my parents, Larry and Chris, for all they have done for me and the community. Thank you for being great mentors and examples of how to treat others and work hard.”