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Why former Washington State quarterback Cam Ward chose Miami over testing the NFL draft waters

Quarterback Cam Ward throws a pass during Miami’s first spring practice on March 4. Ward transferred to Miami from Washington State after originally declaring for the NFL draft.  (Tribune News Service)
By Adam Lichtenstein Tribune News Service

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Deep down, Cam Ward always wanted to be a Hurricane.

At least, that is what Mario Cristobal thinks.

“There was a feeling all along that no matter how it initially played out that he wanted to be a Miami Hurricane,” Cristobal said. “If he admits that later or not, I’ll say he’s full of it. When that call came in, I don’t know if I wanted to high five or jump through the screen and put him in a headlock. The wait was worth it.”

If Ward did always want to come to Miami, he did a good job concealing it from the public. The former Washington State quarterback announced his plans to enter the NFL draft on New Year’s Day. Less than two weeks later, Ward changed his mind, withdrawing from the draft and announcing he would transfer to Miami.

“That was probably one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make,” Ward said. “From thinking I was ready for the NFL draft to knowing that I’m still not done yet in college. There’s still food left on the table for myself, for this team.”

Months later, Ward wrapped up spring practice with his new teammates, and excelled in the Hurricanes’ spring game on April 13. Ward ended the first half, when the Hurricanes played with live tackling, with 17 completions on 23 attempts with a pair of touchdowns. He ended the game with 19 completions on 24 attempts and three scores, according to the ACC Network Extra broadcast. He showed his arm talent, throwing easy deep balls and also tossing a couple of shovel passes when needed.

He has drawn rave reviews from the coaching staff and from other Hurricanes. The ability he showed at Washington State has given Miami fans hope that the Hurricanes will reach heights not seen at UM in decades.

“Guys like that … that can make change, that can make a big difference, not just as a player but as a human being, they come around not too often,” Cristobal said.

Ward cited the Hurricanes’ returning talent, particularly at offensive line, as a major reason why he chose Miami.

“The guys that we return from last season – the majority of the O-line, you get the whole receiving corps back, key pieces of the defense – so I think now it’s just plug and play,” Ward said. “You’ve got a playmaker like myself in the backfield along with good running backs like (Mark Fletcher Jr., Chris Johnson Jr. and Ajay Allen), so at the end of the day, I feel like this is the right program not only for myself but guys who are here right now or are going to end up coming here.”

Ward said he was familiar with offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson’s offense, which he described as an “Air Raid just in a huddle.” He learned it quickly after arriving at UM.

“It’s a lot of concepts that I’ve been running since I started college,” Ward said. “The thing about coach Dawson is that he allows me to be myself. In the pocket, when I’m outside the pocket in scramble drills, he lets me really coach up the receivers on what I see when I see the field. Big hats off to him. When I came in, he came and took me under his wing, showed me the offense within a week and we’ve just been growing and learning ever since.”

Although Ward has not been with the Hurricanes long, he has been quick to bond with his new teammates. He invited skill players over to his home to watch the Super Bowl in the winter, and he took the offensive linemen out to a steak dinner (though rising second-year offensive lineman Tommy Kinsler said he only ordered cole slaw and salad). He has learned what he likes about South Florida (fishing) and what he does not like (traffic).

Beyond fun activities with teammates, Cristobal said Ward has earned his teammates’ trust because it is easy to see how much work he is doing.

“He earned trust in the fact that he’s up there at the office every waking, free moment that he has,” Cristobal said. “He gets there early and he leaves late, and he pulls aside the receivers and the tight ends and he watches film with them. He takes the linemen out to eat, he spends time with the running backs. Then he’ll wait after practice and do some more stuff with other guys that maybe were off a little bit and then come in on Saturdays and get extra work.

“Trust and confidence is earned; it’s not just given away,” Cristobal said. “What he has done (is) he has earned, alright, earned the trust of the people around him because of his time he’s invested and the fact that he’s an alpha. Your quarterback needs to be an alpha.”