MOULTRIE – Before he picks off another pass on the football field or receives another gridiron scholarship offer, junior Jay Ward wants to add something pretty prestigious to his biography: state champion.
It’s no stretch at all to say that Ward, who was practically unconscious making interceptions during Colquitt County High’s run to the 2017 state finals, is a serious contender for the GHSA Class 7A high jump championship. On April 18, Ward won the Region 1-7A title in this field event going 6 feet, 2 inches, and that’s all he needed with the runner-up finisher only getting to 6 feet even.
Ward believes, though, he can do better, and perhaps he will need to on Saturday when he and other qualifying teammates take part in one of the two sectional meets for Class 7A at Mill Creek High School. All that’s required is to place in the top four in order to earn a spot in the state finals taking place May 10-12 at Berry College, but, again, Ward’s after that top spot.
“I will be going to state,” he said.
As a first-time track and field participant, Ward was certainly nervous about going for the region championship. The nerves were soon replaced with excitement. Ward started out relying in pure athletic ability, but he quickly picked up the proper techniques from coaches Dextra Polite and Thad Brown.
“Just working hard and the want-to,” said Polite. “The biggest thing is the want-to. He just caught on, and in his mind he wants to be good. That’s the good thing about Ward. He’s going to work to be good at what he’s doing.”
“As you get higher, it’s harder to do,” said Ward, whose region height represented his best jump so far. “I felt like I could have gone higher (than 6-2 at region). At sectional I will be jumping higher.”
“If he’s feeling good like he was at region, I think he can go easily 6-6,” said Polite, adding that the best he sees in Class 7A is 6-4. Last year’s winning jump in 7A was 6-6 and was accomplished by two athletes, the tiebreaker being fewest attempts. “I think he really has a shot.
Before the spring track and field season started, Ward was in the new football indoor facility doing some defensive back drills. He said one of the assistants, Troy Hobbs, simply asked him to jump then suggested he go try out for track.
“At first, I was just out here jumping,” said Ward. “Then coach Brown worked with me. It’s helping me stay balanced.”
Ward also qualified for the 400-meter relay, and part of his team included other football defenders Nyquan Washington and Camari Louis.
“I think we have a good chance (of reaching the finals) in the 4x100,” said Polite, who also had a team qualifying featuring Kaleb Dawson and JuJuan Williams. “And the 4x400 (Dawson and Washington on that team). Robert Wood should do well in the triple jump.
“Our girls relay team should do well. Janiah Ellis should do well in the high jump and the triple jump. She’s very focused.”
Then there was the Lady Packer freshman who gave a Lowndes senior, Jamesha Samuel, all she wanted in the 100 meters. Naia Benefield was second by 0.14 seconds and qualified in the 200 meters.
“The only thing that scares me is her legs,” said Polite. “If her legs can hold up, she’ll be fine. She’s going to be special in the next few years. Just got to keep her healthy.”
Packers head football coach Rush Propst has said he likes dual sport athletes and likes to see them succeed in their spring endeavors. For Propst, Ward finished the football season with four interceptions and 46 total tackles. Before the picks started to arrive, Ward was the one on special teams going for the block on kicks. He got to two field goals and blocked one punt.
What motivated Ward to be such an impact player? Family. He said he has to compete with his older brother Johnny, who played at Colquitt County from 2010-13.
“I got to be the best out of the three,” said Jay Ward. “I got a younger brother, too (in 9th grade). (Johnny was) pretty good. The only thing he’s better than me at right now is field-goal blocking.
“I want to be the best who ever walked the earth.”
Polite gets to see a lot of Ward’s work up close because he is the cornerbacks coach in football. Ward said Polite is the best hands-down at teaching the corner techniques, like how to move and when to break.
“He expects the best out of me,” said Ward, who said he has 12 college scholarship offers from places like Kentucky, UCF, Southern Mississippi, Georgia State and Georgia Southern. “After state (track) it will be time for football. I’ll be going to camps to get better, compete with the best athletes out there, and working with coach Polite more.”
Nobody, though, can finish a high school career for Colquitt without a signature moment. Ward may already have his when he intercepted the football in the second half of the state finals at North Gwinnett. It seemed like a minute later when he was brought to the ground in the scrum to end all scrums.
“I drug my teammates and some of theirs,” said Ward. “I tried to score … tried my best to get close to that touchdown.”
He compared it to a workout in the weight room.
“We pound the weights. It’s relentless. You have to come in with the right mindset or you’re going to fail. If they kick you out of the weight room, you have to come in the next day at 5:30.”