Larry Nance Jr.
And now Denzel Ward joins the ranks of homegrown athletes to play professionally in Northeast Ohio.
As the No. 4 pick by the Browns in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night, the Ohio State cornerback and former Nordonia High School star is now firmly ensconced in local sports lore.
Among his family and friends gathered at the draft in Arlington, Texas, was his high school football coach Jeff Fox who rubbed shoulders with another of Ward’s coaches, Urban Meyer of Ohio State.
Looking back on the moment that the cornerback turned pro, all Fox could muster on Friday was a lot of this is so “cool” and an “incredible” moment for a great young man and his family back home in Summit County.
A lot has changed since Fox took over the program for the 2012 season and met the perhaps then-undersized 140-pound player in his sophomore year.
Ward went on to help Nordonia reach the playoffs in each of his final three seasons, culminating with a record of 14-1 and a state runner-up finish his senior year.
Ward’s current 5-foot-10 and 183-pound frame and his prowess on the field as a Buckeye may have caught the Browns’ eye, but it is his character and poise off the field that make him a true standout, Fox said.
“The Browns are getting a fantastic kid who will be a real competitor,” he said.
The poise Ward showed when his father, Paul, died of cardiac arrest in a spin class on May 2, 2016, at the age of 46, is one such example.
Ward became just the second Nordonia Knights player to be drafted in the NFL.
In 2006, the Seattle Seahawks selected offensive lineman Rob Sims — also a fellow Buckeye — in the fourth round.
Linebacker Jason Trusnik, who played 10 seasons in the NFL including one with the Browns, offensive lineman Kevin Kowalski, who played two seasons and cornerback Jordan Mabin, who was on practice squads, are Nordonia graduates who went undrafted but had NFL careers.
Fox said that it was fun to watch his family’s reaction when the Browns made the pick and hearing one family member comment that he “won’t have to find a new church.”
Students at Nordonia High School on Friday were greeted by posters on the walls cheering on their alumnus and TV trucks outside marking the historic occasion.
Nordonia Athletic Director Rob Eckenrode said the day was “crazy” in a good way at the high school.
“It was so exciting,” he said. “The kids and everyone are so excited.”
Although things are pretty busy in the fall with his own coaching duties, Fox said he hopes to break out the four Ward Browns jerseys he bought for himself, his wife and two kids and make the trek to FirstEnergy Stadium to watch Ward play.
“It’s so much fun to play a small part in the success of such a great young man.”
Craig Webb, who wore his bright orange Browns polo shirt to work Friday, can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3547.
During second round of NFL Draft, Browns select Austin Corbett and Nick Chubb. C1
Nordonia celebrates return of Denzel Ward to play football for Browns