Denzel Ward is the definition of an Ohio born-and-raised football player.
The Browns’ rookie cornerback grew up in Northeast Ohio, starred at Nordonia High School in Macedonia, accepted a scholarship to Ohio State and became one of the Buckeyes’ best players.
Now, Ward -- the fourth overall pick in the NFL Draft -- is tasked with helping turn his hometown team around in what’s considered a pivotal moment in franchise history. If there’s any sort of external pressure that comes along with that taking up that mantle, he remains unfazed.
“Playing college football at Ohio State, you’re viewed by everyone around the world. I don’t really fall into too much pressure with media or people watching the game,” Ward said during Cleveland’s rookie minicamp.
“I have my own goals, and that’s really the pressure that I have on myself are the goals that I have set in place and the goals I plan on accomplishing.”
Ward, who will compete for a starting job in the Browns’ overhauled secondary, missed part of the three-day camp with minor hip flexor injury. When he was active, however, he showed off the speed, footwork and ball skills that made him one of the nation's best prospects. In his first season as a full-time starter, he earned All-American honors last season with two interceptions and 15 pass breakups. The latest in a line of Buckeye defensive backs taken in the first round, Ward gives Cleveland and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams a premier player in the defensive backfield.
“I like the ability of him being able to play in this defense where we need shut down corners because Gregg really wants more shut down corners,” general manager John Dorsey said shortly after drafting Ward. “He has the speed. He has the athleticism. He has the quickness. He has the ball skills.”
Ward also fit what the Browns wanted off the field. After losing his father, Paul Ward Jr., in 2016, he raised money toward a scholarship in his dad’s honor at the combine two months ago. “He’s a really good man. I think his family has done a really great job with him. I think Ohio State has done a really great job with him,” head coach Hue Jackson said. “I think he has a burning desire to be one of the better corners in this league.”
That should all serve Ward well as he figures to play a key role in helping the Browns move past their first winless season.
And through it all, the hometown kid will have a chance to make Cleveland and his family proud.
“They’re excited. They’re glad that I’m coming home,” Ward said. “I can go back home and get a home cooked meal so they’re excited about that.”