Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.
Sikkema’s Story of the Week
To find out who or what a person will be in the future, you often have to look backwards. A person’s background not only tells a story that has already been written, but it can also establish a theme or pattern for what is yet to come.
For newly acquired Buccaneers safety T.J. Ward, where he’s been, what he’s been through, and more importantly, what he carries because of those things does, in fact, gives us a hint as to the kind of player we can expect to see on the field, and the man he will be for the city of Tampa Bay.
The first thing that Ward brings, something he’s carried for his entire life – his name: Terrell Ward.
Ward’s father, Terrell, also played defensive back. He played football growing up and throughout high school, and was a defensive back at San Diego State University. Ward was selected in the seventh round of the 1980 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. The family line and the last name “Ward” runs deeper than just Terrell Junior.
Bucs S T.J. Ward, with his father, Terrell, and his mother, LaNeita
T.J.’s initial nickname is as you would expect: Terrell Junior. He is named after his father, and that’s something that he has taken to heart his entire career, not just in the NFL, but for as long as anyone can remember. At an early age, even with size against him, T.J. made sure every player on the field, every coach on the sideline and every parent in the stands knew that he was going to out-work and “out-heart,” if you will, any player he went up against.
T.J. earned early praise from his Pee Wee and high school coaches for his good technique and his drive on every down – both things he got from his father, something he carries in his name as well as his skill.
“My father is a great inspiration in my life and is the main reason I’m playing this game. He’s been there through thick-and-thin for me and everything I wanted to do, I had his support”
But T.J.’s father Terrell isn’t all that makes up the name “Ward.” In his last name, there are two pieces to the puzzle, and the other belongs to his mother, LaNeita.
As you may expect, where Terrell is T.J.’s fire and desire in the game, physically and with the heart, LaNeita is his level-headedness, or at least, she is when it comes out – sometimes T.J. has to be reminded, which is something she’ll tell you.
The Wards, Terrell and LaNeita, always made education a priority in their kids’ lives. Any bad grades meant no practice, so those Ward kids did well in school – and because of that, all three of their kids now have college diplomas.
“My mom is super caring, super loving. And she’s not just a mom to me but to my friends.”
LaNeita made sure each of her kids knew how important education was and how important being a good person was to go along with being great at whatever sport they were participating in. LaNeita and Terrell both believe that just because you’re a parent doesn’t mean you automatically have the well-deserved respect of your kids. They believed it was their job to earn their children’s’ respect in how they carried themselves and in the decisions they made as parents. This led to things like the Wards working extra to put all three of their kids through private schools, and for T.J., one of the best football schools in the state of California, De La Salle High School.
That’s where we go for the next thing Ward carries with him to Tampa Bay: A story – a tragic one.
During his days of high school football, Ward developed a bond with a certain group of friends on the team. “The Amigos,” as they were labeled, consisted of T.J., Terrance Kelly, Jackie Bates, Willie Glasper and Cameron Colvin. The five of these young men were seen everywhere together. Their chemistry on the football field can be directly traced back to the bond each of them had with one another off the field. As one would succeed, the other would revel in it with them; as one would fall or fail, it was one of the other four as the first there to pick them up.
The five of these players had a common goal and that was to all play at the same university together. They wanted to work hard to earn as many scholarships as they could so that there would be a chance they all had the same big-time option to choose.
Bucs S T.J. Ward as a high school football player at De La Salle
For T.J., his time as a starter at the historic De La Salle High School, which included a 151 game winning streak while he was there – didn’t come until his senior year. Ward actually wanted to play running back for the DLS Spartans initially, but there was another player by the name of Maurice Jones-Drew (Ward’s cousin) who had that spot locked down. So, Ward made the move full time to safety.
During his senior season, Ward recorded an interception in his first game. Then he recorded an interception in his second game. Everything was looking up for Ward, and it appeared that the time it took for him to be a starter wasn’t going to hold him back from getting scholarship offers from the big-name schools.
That was, until the injury.
In Ward’s third game of his senior season, as he will recall, he was playing as the deep safety on a post route. As the ball arrived, the receiver had no idea that Ward was next to him and the two ended up colliding, shattering Ward’s patellar tendon in the process.
That was it for Ward – there are no redshirts for high schoolers. When you get hurt your senior year, that’s it.
Four players earned scholarships and committed to the University of Oregon that year from De La Salle: Terrance Kelly, Jackie Bates, Willie Glasper and Cameron Colvin. All of The Amigos except for Ward.
But, Ward never gave up; he was committed to hold up his end of the bargain with his brothers. When his father came to him and told him that he didn’t have to rehab hard and try to make a football comeback if he didn’t want to, Ward said no, and instead took it as a challenge. Ward recovered fully from his patellar tendon injury, something he said was the hardest thing he had to push himself through.
In 2006, Ward joined his brothers at Oregon as a walk on, a chance he turned into a full-time starting role as a player on scholarship, and eventually one that led him to the NFL.
Tragically, however, he did not join all of his brothers at Oregon. When they started their first year of college together, The Amigos were without one, one they would be without forever.
In the summer before their first year at Oregon, linebacker, Terrence Kelly, was shot and killed. Kelly’s death and De La Salle’s football team were chronicled in the movie, When The Game Stands Tall. Kelly and Ward had a special bond, Kelly, who was older than Ward, was the one who specifically took T.J. under his wing and made him part of the group at De La Salle. In fact, the coaches wanted to cut Ward from the team his freshman year because of how undersized he was. But, Kelly fought for Ward behind the scenes with the coaching staff, going to bat on Ward’s behalf.
When Terrance passed, Ward and the rest of the brotherhood did what they could to honor him and the friendship they had with their play. That’s what Ward carries with him to this day.
With every hit, with every play, every accomplishment, every big moment, Ward carries something with him. He carries the pride of his family, one that worked hard to get him to the place he is today, and showed him what it’s like to respect and love those around you. He carries adversity. He’s turned unfortunate events – pain – into motivation. He’s been through situations where things didn’t seem fair, and worked hard to come out on the other side and make sure what knocked him down didn’t keep him down. And, finally, he carries a friend. He plays each game for his friend Terrance Kelly. To this day, he’s motivated by the bond and the love they had for each other.
There’s a phrase or a label, rather, that has come alive among Bucs fans this season. It’s called a “Stick Carrier.” Being a stick carrier is something that is for the coaches, the players and the fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to all share together. Being a stick carrier is about letting your work do the talking for you. It’s about having pride in what you do. It’s about carrying something that will make a difference.
T.J. Ward carries a lot of things; a family name; a reason to persevere; a friend. Bucs fans are hoping a “stick” will be another. From where he’s been to the man he’s become, both on and off the field, perhaps he’s been carrying a stick all along.
Maybe now he’s simply home with a different kind of stick carriers.
Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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