CLEVELAND — When Denzel Ward started his football career, he didn't always imagine staying in Ohio.
Born in Northeast Ohio, Ward attended Nordonia High School where he excelled on defense, earning Division II co-defensive player of the year and first-team Associated Press all-state honors.
His senior year of high school in 2014, Ward helped lead the Knights to the DII state championship game with his nine interceptions and 18 pass breakups on defense and 1,300 yards with 20 touchdowns on offense. Those numbers and his skill set drew the eye of many scouts who saw how talented Ward was.
Despite offers from schools around the country like Washington State, Syracuse, Kentucky, Indiana and Rutgers—Ward remained in his home state, committing to The Ohio State University.
Just a few hours south of his hometown, and still in the Buckeye state, Ward continued representing his home at Ohio State. In his three seasons with the Buckeyes, Ward earned consensus All-America honors and first-team all-Big Ten accolades, notching 57 tackles, 26 passes defended and two interceptions over 38 games.
At the end of 2017, after three seasons with the Buckeyes, Ward decided to pursue a career in the National Football League, declaring for the 2018 NFL Draft.
With 30 teams outside of Ohio he could have landed with, Ward was sure he'd be leaving his home state for the first time.
"I didn't think honestly that I was going to be here," Ward said.
The Cleveland Browns, Ward's hometown team, only brought him in for a single visit ahead of the NFL Draft, making him even more sure he'd end up in a new state.
"I had no clue," Ward said.
But after impressing at the NFL Scouting Combine, tying for first in the 40-yard dash (4.32), topping the other players in the broad jump (11'4"), and tying for second in the vertical jump (39"), Ward entered the draft as a projected top 10 pick.
It might have come as a surprise that the team that only brought him in for one visit selected him with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, but it was obvious why the Browns decided to do so.
Through the different stages of his football career—high school, college and now pro—Ward has been Ohio through and through.
"That's like a crazy story to always play in Ohio, going to Ohio State and then getting drafted by my hometown team," Ward said.
Now a staple of the Browns defense and a Dawg Pound fan favorite, Ward has represented Ohio well. And as conversations continue between Ward's agent and the Browns organization in regards to his potential upcoming contract extension, Ward is enjoying his time at home, surrounded by many who are hopeful Ohio will remain his home for years to come.
"I've been enjoying it, loving it. I love being a Cleveland Brown, playing for this team and for this city and we'll see where it goes," Ward said.
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
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