A 49ers scout had given it to the Northern Illinois defensive back prospect at the Scouting Combine in March. Ward wasn't sure why he kept wearing it in the lead-up to May 8, except that it blended well with his NIU gear.
“I have no clue. I just ended up putting it on," Ward said not long after the team drafted him 30th overall on Thursday night. "It went with my sweater, it was red with the white and I just ended up putting it on. That’s when I was like, ‘What a coincidence.’”
There was less happenstance on San Francisco's side of things.
General manager Trent Baalke and his staff did their due diligence on Ward. After all, how else would they zero in on a Mid-American Conference prospect who hails from Alabama but didn't receive a single SEC scholarship offer?
"He took eight visits" to NFL teams, said Baalke, who personally scouted Ward at the MAC title game in Detroit on Dec. 6, 2013. "He’s a guy that a lot of people got their eyes on at the Senior Bowl. You don’t get invited to the Senior Bowl out of Northern Illinois unless you’ve caught the attention of a lot of people.
“I think if you look at the film, he plays well week in and week out. I don’t remember watching a bad game on him. That’s something that really stuck with us and it stuck with our scouting department as they were going through the fall, because one of the things you do when you get into draft meetings in the position that I’m in is you ask, 'What game stands out? What game do you want me to put on for the room to watch?' Both guys that had looked at him in the fall said, ‘Pick one, he’s the same guy week in and week out.’
It was Jim Harbaugh, who met Ward at the combine, to ask the draftee, 'Are you ready to play?' just before the 49ers turned in their top pick at Radio City Music Hall.
"A very up-beat, positive, likeable guy," said Harbaugh, who met Ward at the combine. "Loves football and those things came across. They were evident.”
Baalke said the same of hosting Ward at the team's SAP Performance Facility in Santa Clara: "He’s a bright-eyed guy, he’s got a great smile, he’s very confident, the stage isn’t going to be too big for him, and if anything we’ll probably have to pull the reigns back a little bit. This guy loves to compete. He loves the game of football."
Up until Thursday evening, Ward wasn't so sure how the 49ers felt about him. He remembered coming to Santa Clara clearly.
"When I first came in for my visit, I didn't know what to expect," Ward said. "Coach Vic (Fangio) was giving me the poker face. I'm like, 'Oh, what do I have here?' Then I meet with coach Harbaugh for five minutes. We were chopping it up – conversating, that's my slang – and all of sudden it goes from 20 minutes to 30 minutes. I think we were in there for an hour talking; somebody had to come and get us."