August 11, 2014 9:43:32 AM
OXFORD -- All of the back and forth hasn't fazed Channing Ward.
Even after moving from defense to offense and back to defense, the former Aberdeen High School standout is focused on doing whatever he can to help the Ole Miss football team have a great season in 2014.
This year, though, Ward wants to use everything he has been through in his first two years as a Rebel and make a bigger impact. To do that, Ward knows he has to turn up the intensity.
"I was looking at trying to be a great player coming in right from the start," Ward said. "I should have taken my time and developed to become a better player instead of trying to rush everything."
Ward will get a chance to be a bigger contributor at defensive end. Last season, Ward had 24 tackles (13 solo) in 13 games as a defensive end. In the spring, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze and the coaching staff moved Ward, a 6-foot-4, 274-pounder, to tight end, a position he played some as a standout at Aberdeen High.
But Freeze said earlier this month that Ward has moved back to defensive end. He said the coaches view the move as a way to keep Ward on the field and for him to get more snaps.
Coming out of high school, Ward took advantage of nearly every opportunity when he was on the field. As a senior, Ward was an Under-Armour All-America selection and a first-team All-State pick. ESPN.com rated Ward as the No. 48 player and the No. 5 defensive end in the nation.
Freeze said not all players immediately produce results that are in line with the recruiting hype associated with their names.
"His development is still occurring, as (it is with) so many others," Freeze said. "We just have to keep all of the outside stuff out and just continue to develop him as a young man and as a player. Hopefully, we will start seeing the fruits of his labors this year."
As a freshman at Ole Miss, Ward had 21 tackles (nine solo) in 13 games. Those numbers improved a little bit last season, but Ward still found himself on the move to a new position. Freeze said he talked with Ward several times during the summer and believes defense is the right place for him.
"I think he wants to move back to the defensive side," Freeze said. "He probably will have one package offensively that he can do. That's all we would ask him to learn on that side. Hopefully, everything comes together for him and he kind of turns it loose and plays with a higher motor and isn't someone who is confused."
Ward said he was "kind of happy" when he learned he would move from defense to offense. He smiled when it was mentioned to him that he used to encourage then-Aberdeen coach Chris Duncan to put him in at tight end so he could get his hands on the football.
Ward said he was getting used to the fast pace of Ole Miss' offense and his role at tight end during the summer when he participated on seven-on-seven workouts. He said he talked with Freeze a little bit after the spring and learned he would move back to defense to help the team.
"I feel kind of better about it," Ward said. "On defense, I know all of the plays. It is just getting back to learning all of those plays instead of a new playbook."
In addition to being more confident on defense, Ward also said he feels more comfortable on that side of the ball. He said he is coming along and getting better every day. He said he is more used to the speed of the game and more familiar with the playbook so he can instinctively go hard every play and not worry about making mistakes.
"You have to play hard every time you get a chance," Ward said. "If you're slow step on that step, that player might be gone. In high school, I was faster than most everybody on the field. Now there are guys who are faster and bigger than me. I have to get used to playing hard and playing every play like it is the last."
At Ole Miss media day, Ward looked more comfortable as a defensive end in part because he had a name card that listed that as his position. He said "going hard and playing hard" every play was the key to him having a successful season. He said tackles, sacks, and tackles for loss would come if he did that.
Freeze hopes Ward can do that because he knows what that could mean to his defense.
"He is such an athletic kid," Freeze said. "You see him run down on kickoffs and you think he should be an All-SEC performer, and, hopefully, he will be before he leaves here. He is excited to move back, and we are excited to see it all come together for him."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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