Nick Rolovich and the Cougars will spend a good portion of the next eight months piecing together the rest of their 2021 recruiting class, all the way through the early signing period in December leading up to the traditional signing day in February.
While Washington State’s work isn’t finished yet, forgive Rolovich and his staff if they’re performing a few more virtual chest bumps and high-fives today.
The Cougars secured their first commitment from a quarterback under the first-year coach when Xavier Ward, a three-star prospect from Corona, California, pledged Thursday morning, just five days after being offered by WSU.
Ward announced his commitment just after 10 a.m., posting a tweet with an eye-catching graphic that depicted the quarterback as a “Star Wars” Jedi. In the illustration, Ward is wearing a brown cloak and wielding a blue lightsaber with an Ol’ Crimson flag and multiple Star Wars vehicles in the backdrop.
The story behind the graphic?
“Not only am I a ‘Star Wars’ fan, but also my quarterbacks coach, Steve Calhoun, he is good friends with (WSU QB coach) Craig Stutzmann,” Ward said in a phone interview Thursday. “Coach Calhoun refers to his quarterbacks he trains as Jedi … and he refers to himself as Yoda. So it’s a pretty cool kind of thing. He trains his Jedi, and I’m one of his Jedi as one of the quarterbacks he trains. So that’s the origin story behind (the graphic). It’s pretty cool.”
And the story behind Ward’s commitment to the Cougars?
“Obviously, Washington State checks all the boxes, and I really feel highly of Washington State. I really, really like the school,” Ward said. “… It’s always been a really good vibe with them. It’s not like I just made this decision after four days of being offered. I actually kind of knew how things went with WSU, and how I felt about them for a while now.”
A 6-foot-2, 195-pound recruit, Ward is considered a “pro-style” quarterback by 247Sports.com. Although he didn’t log many rushing yards at Eleanor Roosevelt High as a junior, he’s more than capable as a runner. After recently clocking 4.65 seconds in the 40-yard dash, he should arrive in Pullman as one of the more mobile quarterbacks in recent memory.
Ward is considered the nation’s No. 45 pro-style QB and the No. 107 overall recruit in the state of California by 247Sports.com. Despite not receiving an offer until Saturday, he’s been in contact with the Cougars, and notably Stutzmann, for a few months at this point.
“The coaches there, I really feel they’ll develop me into the best quarterback I can be,” Ward said. “My goals and aspirations are to get to the NFL and be one of the best quarterbacks in that league as well. I feel that with this offense and with the coaches behind me and on my side, I feel I can definitely get to that level, and I’m definitely excited for it.”
Given WSU’s recent history at the QB position, as well as Rolovich’s history, it’s understandable why the Cougars were an enticing option. Two of the past three WSU signal-callers were selected in the NFL draft, with 2019 starter Anthony Gordon a high-priority free-agent pickup. Rolovich’s last QB at Hawaii, Cole McDonald, was picked up in the seventh round of the 2020 draft, and Ward said McDonald’s success in Rolovich’s run-and-shoot offense was another strong selling point that made his decision easier.
“It’s really exciting because how much they throw,” Ward said. “They throw 30, 40 times a game. A lot of pass yardage, a lot of passing touchdowns. The running going into it, it’s really enticing to think about because it really fits me as a quarterback.”
Oregon State was the only other Power Five or Pac-12 school to offer Ward. The Beavers were also the first, offering the QB in May 2019. His only other offers came from two regional FCS programs, Eastern Washington and Idaho.
After throwing 13 interceptions and seven touchdowns as a sophomore while completing just 45% of his throws, Ward turned his numbers around as a junior, completing 51% while throwing 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions to go with 2,044 yards.
Ward, who held a 3.7 GPA, according to 247Sports, earned first-team All-CIF honors and first-team all-league honors as a junior. The 16-year-old is considered to have tons of upside and recently was one of the top quarterbacks at the Top 100 SoCal Showcase in Corona.
Though he began playing quarterback as a 9-year-old, Ward moved around the field the majority of his young career and didn’t start playing behind center full-time until he was a high school freshman.
“Those other positions helped me build the love for the game,” he said.
Ward, who becomes WSU’s eighth commit in the 2021 class, said he’s spent the past three years focused on shortening his arm release – “(it) used to be pretty elongated” – and improving his foot speed. According to 247Sports, he ran a 4.95 in the 40 at The Opening Regional in February 2019, which means Ward has trimmed three-tenths of a second in just 16 months.
Ward’s father Orlando was a 6-8 center for Stanford’s basketball team in the late 1970s/early 1980s, playing in 78 games and scoring 464 points for the Cardinal in four seasons.
The Roosevelt QB is considering a few academic paths at WSU and described his affinity for mechanical engineering, noting he’s part of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program at his high school.
“I’ve also lately been thinking about law and maybe even getting into sports management,” Ward said.
Barring any transfers, Ward would be one of four scholarship quarterbacks at WSU in fall 2021, joining Cammon Cooper, Gunner Cruz and Jayden de Laura.
The Cougars were originally in the mix for San Antonio three-star quarterback Lucas Coley, but the country’s 19th-ranked dual-threat quarterback received an offer from Arkansas two days before WSU offered and committed to the Razorbacks Thursday night.
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