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Jimmie Ward's College Coach: 'We Figured We Had Something Special'

Posted Aug 26, 2014

To examine the San Francisco 49ers 12-man NFL Draft class, 49ers.com checked in with a college coach of each pick. We continue our series with the team's first-round selection.


To examine the San Francisco 49ers 12-man NFL Draft class, 49ers.com checked in with a college coach of each pick. We continue our series with...

Jimmie Ward played in 55 of 56 games over his four-year career at Northern Illinois.

The 49ers first-round pick recorded at least one tackle in all of them.

Consistency, as his second of two college coaches sees it, was the key to Ward’s ascent from a lesser-known football school.

Ward, a Mobile, Ala., native with few options after high school, showed up, worked hard, let his talents take over – and then, under Huskies head coach Rod Carey, learned how to speak up and lead. 

"If he didn't agree with something, he would say, 'I don't know, what about this, coach?'” Carey said over the phone from DeKalb, Ill. “And sometimes I would go to him, and he would give me his opinion.

"Everything that you want out of a college senior, you got with Jimmie Ward.”

First Impressions
“Jerry Kill and his staff recruited Jimmie, and Jimmie played as a freshman in 2010,” Carey said. “When I came in as an offensive coach before his sophomore season, we were watching film and we knew he had like six blocked kicks or whatever, and we were like, 'Holy, who is this kid?' And then in our first game against Army in 2011, he blocked a punt and set the whole game up, so we figured we had something special. Obviously, he turned into an all-conference player really quick.” 

College Improvements
"I took over right as the head coach before the 2013 Orange Bowl, and Jimmie was a part of my staff's first senior class the next season,” Carey said. “I put a lot on him and (quarterback) Jordan Lynch. I pulled those two in, and I said, 'Listen, it's on you two. You're the two best players on our team. The team will do as you do.' Jordan, I knew what I had in because I was his offensive coordinator the year before. Jimmie, I didn't really know him because he was on the defensive side. I spent a lot of time trying to get to know him, and he grew up. The reason he was a first-round pick is because he took his role as a leader seriously.” 

Off the Field
"The smile on his face when he talks about his little girl – every time we talked about her, he got a big ol' smile on his face. He's a proud papa. That's my biggest memory of him away from football."

Big Moment
"This may sound a little odd, but it came in a loss, against Utah State, our bowl game this year,” Carey said. “Jimmie knew he was going to be an NFL Draft pick, and we had already lost the MAC Championship. We had worried about where our team was, because if we had won that game, we go to the Fiesta Bowl, I think. Our defense didn't really play well in the MAC Championship, so we put a lot of work into it. And here Jimmie was, after a month of practicing before the Poinsettia Bowl, leading the guys. He probably practiced harder than anyone in that month.

“And then in the game, we were down. Offensively, we're not playing well at all. We turn the ball over for the third time for the game on offense late in the third quarter, and Jimmie takes his defense out to the field and told them, 'We have to have a stop; we have to have a turnover.' It's third down and they throw a pass, and Jimmie makes the most incredible interception in the back of the end zone. He was beat, but with his recovery speed, he caught up, made the pick and brought it out to the 25-yard line. He gave us a chance in that game. That play will stick with me." 

NFL Expectations
"I wouldn't put any of my expectations out there,” Carey said. “That's for coach (Jim) Harbaugh and his staff. They saw that they liked him. They know way more about what to do with Jimmie in the pros than what I can tell him." 

Coach's Advice
"I talked to him once and texted him a bunch. I just said, 'Good luck. You will do great. Keep doing what you're doing,’” Carey said. “He has a lot of people beating him up right now, so he doesn't need me doing that."
 

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