ABERDEEN — Channing Ward is used to the attention.
Ever since Ward arrived at Aberdeen High School, he attracted the interest of numerous colleges that fell in love with his potential at a variety of positions.
This season, Ward played expanded roles on offense and defense in an attempt to help the Bulldogs make a run at a third-straight trip to Jackson, the site of the state title games.
Aberdeen fell short of that goal, losing to Charleston in the third round of the Class 3A North State playoffs, but Ward made his presence on both sides of the ball. He made his biggest impact on defense, registering 116 tackles and 16 sacks while playing on the line, at linebacker, and in the secondary.
“I think Channing had a good year,” Aberdeen coach Chris Duncan said. “We didn’t win as many games as we wanted, but I think he grew up a lot. He was forced to be a leader with the situation we were in, and I think it helped him mature as a football player and as a young man. That was the most positive thing I saw this year.”
For his accomplishments, Ward is The Dispatch’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Ward isn’t sure what position he will play in college or where he will play football, but he is excited about elevating his game.
“You always look to be a dominant player, but you look to where you can help that team the most,” Ward said.
Ward admitted he felt he helped an experienced Aberdeen defense dictate the tempo with an attacking, swarming style of play. Duncan and the coaches maximized the threat of Ward wreaking havoc on a play by moving him to several positions so defenses always had to be aware of the speed-rushing threat.
Ward believes he may get a chance to hone those skills in college. At 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, Ward has plenty of room left to mature physically. With explosive speed off the ball, Ward could be a dangerous weapon off the edge at linebacker or as a lineman a defense could be used to disrupt an offense.
Ward did his share of disrupting defenses, too. Moved to running back, Ward rushed for two scores and caught a touchdown pass in a 63-0 victory against South Pontotoc. Ward admitted in October he didn’t learn he was going to play running back until about two hours before the game. He said he thought his coaches were joking.
Playing big roles on both sides of the ball didn’t slow Ward down. He said he was in “way better shape” than he was as a junior. He also said he felt a lot stronger.
“I would give myself a ‘B’ because we didn’t finish like we were supposed to finish,” Ward said. “There was a lot of stuff I could have done and changed, but it is too late now.”
Ward will take the Bulldogs’ 7-6 record as motivation into the offseason. He isn’t sure how he is going to handle the next few months that will be filled with phone calls and all sorts of correspondences from coaching asking, “Where is Channing Ward going to go?”
Ward said he will try to have fun with the recruiting process. He said his speed is an asset that could help him at linebacker or at tight end. With players at that position in college and in the NFL emerging as dominant players, Ward is willing to go in either direction on offense or defense if it means he will be able to help him take the next step and move him closer to his ultimate goal of playing professional football.
“That is my main goal (getting to the NFL),” Ward said, “but I still have to go through college and get through all of that stuff before you get there. It is going to be a big challenge because nothing in the world is easy. I am going to have to work hard and keep grinding and hope it comes after that.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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