Lyco captain Ward builds on better year
Mike Ward’s advice to a younger version of himself is pretty basic: Just let the plays come to you.
The Lycoming senior captain looks back on who he was two years ago as a first-year starter at safety for the Warriors and knows he tried to do too much. Not only was he trying to replace All-American Tanner Troutman in the secondary, but he was part of a secondary which was struggling immensely on the way to a disappointing 4-6 season.
Now, looking back on that season, the senior version of Mike Ward wants to tell the sophomore version to just slow down a little bit. Instead of trying to make a spectacular play each snap, just do what you’re assigned to do. Everything else will take care of itself.
“I think younger me would listen to older me,” Ward said with a smile. “I made some plays my sophomore year, but I hurt the defense trying to do stuff on my own.”
It was easy to see two years ago why Ward was starting for Lycoming. He was an uber-athletic player with great speed who was afraid to treat his body like a battering-ram. But his big flaw was that for every good play he would make, it would often be followed with a mistake which would cost the Warriors.
He sees it now looking back on his play two seasons ago. And it’s easy to just shake his head at the way he played. But this version of Mike Ward is so much different than that version. He’s still the same player who leads the Warriors in tackles. He’s still the same player which hits like a sledgehammer driving a stake into the ground. And he’s still the same player which can turn a floated pass into an interception the other way.
But now he does it all with more consistency because he lets the game come to him. He allows plays to develop in front of him and makes his read based off what he sees. At times, it means coming up toward the line of scrimmage and filling on run support. Other times he’s separating a receiver from the football to prevent a first down. And like it was against Albright, he made a diving interception over the deep middle third of the field.
This version of Mike Ward was an honorable mention all-conference selection a year ago and is playing even better this year.
“This school has had a tradition of amazing defensive backs and I try to fill that standard and go beyond it,” Ward said. “It’s my job to come up and fill the run. It’s my job to come up and hit someone when they’re hanging on. It’s my job to make the saving play if someone gets behind a corner. That’s just the title of being a strong safety. You have to be a well-rounded player.”
“So when we recruited him, he was a good player. He was really athletic and a talented defensive back,” Lycoming head coach Mike Clark said. “I think his development physically has really helped him. He’s worked hard in the weight room. And if you take an athletic kid who matures physically and then give him 30 games of experience, they typically become really good players.”
Ward has always tried to set a positive example with the way he plays the game. It’s part of the reason why he’s on each of Lycoming’s special teams. And it’s a big part of the reason you see him play with complete disregard for his own body.
He understands where Lycoming’s program is right now after back-to-back disappointing seasons. And he understands where it once was. He hopes the example he sets on the field in how he plays the game can set the program up to turn around the tough luck of the last couple seasons.
As a senior, and as one of the co-captains along with Erik Wagner, Ward feels like he owes it to the rest of the team to set the kind of example necessary to get the program back to the top of the Middle Atlantic Conference.
“I’m not a huge vocal guy, but I try to lead by example,” Ward said. “That’s why every time I’m out on the field I’m busting my (butt) and going 100 percent, just so they know that I’m doing it and they should do it, too.”
When Ward thinks about the advice he’d give him younger self, he said its easier for him now to allow the game to come to him because the defense as a unit has improved so much. No longer does he feel like he always has to make the big play when the Warriors need one.
He knows Sam Romanofsky is capable of getting to the quarterback. He knows how fast and physical the linebackers play and how they can impact both the running and passing game.
It allows Ward to sit back and react a little more. It allows him to be the player he wants to be. And in turn, he’s becoming the next in a long line of successful and talented Lycoming safeties.
“Ray (Bierbach) was obviously really good. (Ryan Fenningham) had the injury but was all-conference as a junior. Tanner (Troutman) was an All-American. Chuck Belitto was a really good player,” Clark said. “Michael is absolutely in the conversation there. He’s a complete player and he never comes off the field. I think that says a lot about him.”