CLEVELAND — As the 2021 NFL Draft approaches, Nicole Ward, the mother of Browns cornerback Denzel Ward, reflected on the magic of the night when her son was chosen by his hometown team, the Cleveland Browns.
"Draft night was just like, it was just really surreal. Just couldn't believe it, but of course just so very proud that he was able to make that achievement,” said Nicole.
Sports Illustrated ranked him as the top cornerback prospect going into the 2018 NFL Draft. It was a night filled with anticipation and excitement, not just for the players, but also for the parents.
A range of emotions went through Nicole’s mind on the special night.
"Is this real? Is this really happening? That's what kind of went through my mind," Nicole said, laughing. "You know, it's just unbelievable. I just remember Denzel, but maybe a lot of kids, as a young kid, saying this is what he wanted. That he wanted to be a professional NFL player. I have a letter that he had written that stated that."
Words have power, and what Denzel had written is now done. After the draft, his mother watched her son sign a fully guaranteed four-year deal with the Cleveland Browns.
"Who would have thought, you know? I mean he played here in Ohio, he went to Ohio State, and you're like the chances of him actually coming back here to Cleveland to play for the Browns is probably slim to none you would think. But lo and behold God had another plan, and we are here at home and we are so excited about it," she said.
While her son has achieved great success with money and fame that comes with being a player in the NFL, she says Denzel’s humility has stayed intact through it all.
"He's so humble, and what I really appreciate about him is that everything that has been given to him as it relates to becoming a professional football player, he hasn't allowed it to go to his head," she said.
Denzel’s late father Paul Ward Sr. taught him the importance of giving back and to make sure "they know your name" on and off the field. It’s a lesson Denzel has put into action. He holds the Warden Elite Football Skills Camp for Boys and Girls at his high school alma mater Nordonia High.
Denzel is also the founder of the “Make Them Know Your Name” Foundation, which was created in honor of his father who died from cardiac arrest at the age of 46. He, along with his mother and brother, work to provide training, education and resources to prevent heart-related deaths in Ohio.
"Giving back has always been important, ever since the boys were young we would always have them involved in community service projects and giving back to those who are less fortunate than us," she said.
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