BEREA: Newly minted Browns cornerback Denzel Ward, all 5-foot-10⅞, 183-pounds of him, read a letter from his mother Nicole Ward after being drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft with the No. 4 pick overall.

He could barely contain his emotions and he ended with a simple “I love you too, Mom.”

It’s the type of moment that could have come across as hokey, contrived and insincere. Given what Ward, his mother and older brother P.J. have endured, nothing could be further from the truth.

Wednesday will be the second anniversary of the death of family patriarch, Paul Ward Jr., from cardiac arrest.

“I really just wanted to share with him how I felt from my heart,” Nicole Ward said. “As I mentioned in the letter, I just know the journey that we’ve taken and that he’s taken to get to this point and nothing worth having comes easy and you’re always faced with challenges and adversities.”

Denzel, who lived through the tragedy and still maintained enough focus to fulfill a childhood dream to be a professional athlete, either in the NBA or NFL, is appreciative of what they’ve shared.

“My family and I have been through so much,” said Ward, an Ohio State cornerback and Nordonia High School graduate. “My family did so much for me, and for them to share this experience with me and for her to share her feelings with me, it means a lot to me.”

More importantly, Nicole Ward understands what could have been had Paul Ward’s death derailed his son’s dreams.

“He could have given up. He could have said I’m coming back home or anything, but he didn’t,” she said. “I felt he used that as motivation and inspiration to move forward and so I just wanted him to know that, in that letter, that I recognized that, and above all else, I will always remember that he never gave up and, because of his work ethic, I think that is the reason why he’s here today.”

The tragedy did take its toll. A mother possesses a sixth sense when it comes to her children, not that Nicole needed it. Mothers feel a child’s pain, physical and emotional, along with their love and happiness. She didn’t shy away from an admission when speaking about her youngest son, who joins an exclusive club of high NFL draft choices from Northeast Ohio.

“For me, it was very tough for me and I knew I had to be an example. I remember my mother telling me that your children will tend to respond and react the way you respond and react. And so even though it was very tough for me, I felt like I had to stay strong,” Nicole said, “and keep my head up so that they can see that this is a tough situation, but life still has to go on and just also knowing that my husband was the type of person that just enjoyed life, loved life and lived life and that’s what he would want for the boys.”

Denzel, who turns 21 Saturday, said his father got to watch the Browns select him from heaven. Nicole experienced the joy in Dallas at her son’s side.

The moment, which she called emotionally overwhelming, caused her to remember the book of mementos she kept of Denzel’s exploits, in it a letter proclaiming his future when he was 9 or 10 years old.

“It was in his heart at that young age,” she said, “and just how competitive that I know he is and just so dedicated to the sport, so for it to actually become reality, it was just amazing. It was just something I will never, ever forget.”

Given the strength she showed through her family’s journey, she deserves some credit for ensuring Denzel was able to fulfill that dream.

The Browns respect the player he is, obviously, or they wouldn’t have drafted him as high as they did, but they also appreciate the man he’s evolved into because of his personal journey.

“I think his family has done a really great job with him. I think Ohio State has done a really great job with him,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “I think he has a burning desire to be one of the better corners in this league. He has the characteristics as a player, the speed, the hips, the quickness and the suddenness to be a really great player for us.”

Browns General Manager John Dorsey spoke to defensive coordinator Gregg Williams before meeting with the media on draft night. Williams shared some interesting texts he’d received after the Browns made the selection.

“He kind of pulled me into his office and said ‘Come here. Look at this text here. I am getting all of these texts from the Ohio State football coaches. They say that this guy is a really great teammate.’ That is pretty cool,” Dorsey said.

Even cooler? Ward gets to be that teammate from the confines of home.

“It is definitely a blessing,” he said. “It has been my childhood dream to get to the NFL Draft. Watching guys like [Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback] Deion Sanders and all of those guys, [Arizona Cardinals cornerback] Patrick Peterson and to actually be here and to go to Ohio State and to come to Cleveland now, it is crazy. It is just an amazing feeling. I’m excited.”

George M. Thomas can be reached at gmthomas@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ.