Cameron Ward will attract everyone's attention this college football season.
Ward, who transferred from Incarnate Word to Washington State, is the only quarterback to make the jump from the FCS to the Power 5 in 2022. He piled up 4,648 passing yards and 47 TDs for the Cardinals last season; totals that are in the neighborhood of Alabama's Bryce Young, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.
Ward made the transition from Wing-T in high school to the Air Raid, and Washington State coach Jake Dickert isn't afraid to make the du jour comparison for aspiring NFL quarterback prospects to follow.
"I had an opportunity to be a FSU vs. Miami Rivalry Shirts round Josh Allen at Wyoming and this reminds me of that," Dickert told Sporting News. "That infectious person who loves the game, loves the guys, loves hanging out and hasn't seen a bad day. It's just amazing how infectious and how that stuff compounds. That's who Cameron is naturally, and that is not forced at all."
MORE: Hot Seats | SN's Preseason All-America Team | Bowl Projections
Washington Stat College Cold Weather Shirts e, a program 20 years removed from their last Pac-12 championship, hasn't had attention for the right reasons the last few seasons. Mike Leach left for Mississippi State after a 6-7 record in 2019. Nick Rolovich was fired last year after refusing a state mandate to get vaccinated for Alabama vs. Auburn Rivalry Shirts COVID-19. Dickert retained the full-time job.
Dickert coached at Wyoming in 2017 when Allen emerged as a first-round pick. Ward would seemingly be an even larger out-of-nowhere story, especially with the path to Washington State. In fact, Dickert wasn't even specifically watching Ward when he popped in the Incarnate Word film in November.
Dickert was interviewing candidates for the vacant offensive coordinator position, and Eric Morris was the target. Morris, a former Texas Tech receiver and assistant coach, ran a Run 'n' Shoot variant of Leach's "Air Raid" at Incarnate Word. This schematics checkup turned into a revelation and Dickert stopped the clicker a few times: "Holy cow! This kid can make all the throws."
"Great quarterbacks are great when they're off script," Dickert said. "It's one of the biggest things I evaluate with high school players. What do they do when things break down? A lot of people can be good when things are clean, the pocket and all this stuff, but I want to watch a cutup on people when things break down. With Cam, as you continue to watch him, it gets even better and better."
Ward debuts Saturday when Washington State plays Idaho; an FCS opponent 10 miles down the road from Pullman, Wash. That will be the first glimpse of a Heisman sleeper before the first national test at No. 18 Wisconsin in Week 2.
For Ward, it is time to make that jump.
"To me, every game is personal with my background that I went through in high school not having the offers that I know I was capable of getting," Ward told SN. "Every game I played at Incarnate Word and every game that I'm going to play here at Washington State is personal."
Ward's throwing mechanics will attract the most social media attention.
It's following the trend-setting by the next generation of quarterbacks. The side-arm throwing phenomenon continues to grow in popularity because of NFL quarterbacks such as Patrick Mahomes II, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford.
This is something Ward learned at an early age. Ward's clips from Columbia High School in West Columbia, Texas; and Incarnate Word show that multi-arm slotability, and that's bound to happen against the Vandals in Week 1.
"I've been able to do that my entire career," Ward said. "It's something that I worked on when I was younger with my dad. It's just having the pop off the ball so you can have the velocity off it whether you go over the shoulder, go sidearm or just go a little bit lower; below sidearm. Whatever happens in the game, just try to be as accurate as I can with whichever position I decide to throw with."
MORE: Pac-12 predictions, top transfers, biggest games
"Me being an old coach, I might be like, 'We need to have those fundamentals,'" Dickert said. "Coach Morris will be like, 'Nope, this is what he does.' That's what makes him great. I grew up on Brett Favre, who would do some crazy wild things and throws and make plays. It's fun to watch, and now I have a better perspective of how Cam is as a football player."
There is another Favre comparison that has nothing to do with improv skills. Ward passed for 2,261 yards and 17 TDs in a Wing-T offense; numbers that don't tell the whole story.
"Everybody likes to say, 'Well he was in a Wing-T offense,'" Columbia coach Brent Mascheck told SN. "Yes, but I like to remind people that Brett Favre was in a Wing-T offense, too. Those things he did in the offense, and we were very successful, he never once complained, 'Coach I want to throw it 70 times a game.' To me it was always, 'Coach, what do we need to win the game?'”
Mascheck would incorporate five-step drops and shotgun throws for college scouts as part of offseason workouts, and Ward's arm strength was an attraction. Mascheck recalled a conversation with Texas A&M offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey, who told him, "He throws the best 15-yard out I have seen all year." Still, the 6-2, 240-pound quarterback did not have a star rating.
"You name them, we had them down here and everybody passed on him," Mascheck said. "It was the most amazing thing. It was one thing after another. I said 'Guys, do you all see what I see with him throwi Fairfield Stags Jerseys ng the football?' Everybody had different excuses why they didn't want him."
Morris, who was Mahomes' offensive coordinator at Texas Tech before taking the Incarnate Word job in San Antonio, took a chance on Ward after witnessing that arm strength at a camp. Mascheck had a message Ward has not forgotten ever since.
"I told him, 'You know all those colleges that told you they're not interested?" Mascheck said. "Remember that when you play them.' Whether that's ego – as a competitor; you want to show them they made a mistake."
Cam Ward (Washington State Athletics)
Once Ward adjusted to the progressions in the scheme, the records followed. He won the Jerry Rice Award as a freshman. He led the Cardinals to their first FCS playoff victory in a 35-28 overtime thriller against Stephen F. Austin. He took perennial power Sam Houston State to the wire in a 49-42 shootout the following week. In those playoff games against Texas FCS schools, Ward put up 78 of 115 passing for 809 yards, nine TDs and zero interceptions.
Suddenly, in the era of the transfer portal, Ward went from the quarterback nobody wanted to one of the most sought-after quarterbacks in the 2022 cycle. The irony was not lost.
"I finally got to go through recruiting, which I wanted to do in high school," Ward said. "Instead it came three years later. Everything happens for a reason and having all those schools come look at me again, at the end of the day it was a business decision.
"I know where I want to get with football," he said. "That's to the NFL."
Ward made one of those throws that will attract NFL scouts' attention at the Washington State spring game on April 23.
With the offense in the red zone, Ward back-pedaled in the pocket, side-stepped, then delivered a rope through three defenders in zone coverage to Lincoln Victor for a TD. Pac-12 analyst Ryan Leaf happened to College Cold Weather Gear be standing in the back corner of that end zone. Leaf's knee-jerk analysis? "That's epic."
"It's a spring game, but he's going up against Pac-12 competition, and he made some throws when he let them go and I said, 'That's risky,'" Leaf told Sporting News. "But he was able to put them in there. I don't think arm strength is going to be an issue."
Then Leaf went to the source on the sideline. Leaf said Ward told him he knew how much room he had between the defenders, and that Victor would make the catch – a trust factor behind that big-time throw.
"I would say just having that confidence in my game and knowing the receivers around me are going to make those plays," Ward said. "Just throwing it up in a spot where only they can get it and giving them a chance to make a play like Lincoln did. I'm trying t WVU vs. Pitt Rivalry Jerseys o have more of those with him and the other receivers."
That play is another example of what Dickert saw on film, a next-level factor in Ward's game that gets overshadowed by the arm talent.
"People will make a lot about his arm strength, but I'll make a lot about his anticipation and the way he sees the window," Dickert said. "His timing is just incredible. One thing people get sucked into is how far and how fast the ball comes out, but anticipating second-level windows, especially in the red zone, is something that is just such a unique talent. He has that."
Ward showed that by hitting 21 of 30 passes for 246 yards and four TDs in the spring game, and it's a matter of time before the comparisons to Leaf, who led the Cougars to a Pac-12 championship and took third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1997, start to materialize. Leaf sees the potential for Ward to be next in the lineage of Washington State quarterbacks who have finished in the top-10 in the Heisman voting.
|Ryan Leaf||1997 Boise State Broncos shirt||3rd|
That list does not include Cougars quarterbacks such as Luke Falk, Connor Halliday and Anthony Gordon, who put up prolific passing stats with Leach in the last decade. For Ward, the jump to the FBS competition is one of those questions that need answered.
"I do feel like the biggest question mark is the offensive line and whether they can protect him," Leaf said. "If they can't protect, then what's that like? He's not going to be able to run away from guys like he did at Incarnate Word. It's a different athlete that's going to be chasing him down."
For Ward, it is about knowing where that pressure is coming from in the pocket. That is the difference between FCS and FBS speed.
"I would say the defensive ends have been more athletic," Ward said. "That's the only major thing I have to adjust to. To me, it's just football at the end of the day. I know I can play at this level, and I just need to go out and prove it."
As for the intangible qualities, Morris told reporters on Aug. 10 that Ward continues to evolve, and the leadership is showing with each practice.
MORE: Take the SN Transfer QB Quiz!
"Cam has this unique ability to turn it on and he's super competitive," Morris told reporters. "We've challenged him when he turns it on and that competitiveness comes out to bring people along with him. They're hearing your voice every play, so find someone every day and let's bring them along with you. Football is power in numbers."
Attention is one thing. Captivating the nation comes with the national stage.
Leaf remembers his first chance on Aug. 31, 1996, when the Cou Blue Ridge Community College clothes gars had that spotlight against No. 5 Colorado. The Buffaloes won 37-19, but that was the start of a two-year journey that led to a Rose Bowl berth the following season. By then, Leaf had received enough accolades to be selected with the No. 2 pick in the 1998 NFL Draft.
If Washington State takes care of business in Week 1 against Idaho, then Ward would be presented with a similar opportunity in Week 2 against No. 18 Wisconsin.
"I think there could be some concerns if they struggle (against Idaho), but I don't think if he has a huge game people are going to be like, 'Oh, wow,'" Leaf said. "It is going to be that Wisconsin game with 'Jump Around,' the defense in that atmosphere on FOX in front of the nation. That's going to be a coming-out party."
That's still not the end-all for Ward. It's the start of what could be a two-year run with the next prolific quarterback at Washington State, one who took the 2,000-mile journey from West Columbia, Texas, to Pullman, Wash., with that pit stop at Incarnate Word. Those who have seen Ward work are hearing others deliver the same message now.
"He has really worked on his touch and decision making," Mascheck said. "That only comes from experience. I think his decision making is so much better. I think the country is about to see a talented person, but more importantly a down-to-earth kid who does it for the right reasons."
Dickert recalled one of those scrimmages in fall camp, including one in which defensive coordinator Brian Ward threw his hands up after trying to stop the new quarterback before approaching Dickert. "We've got a special one," Ward said.
Dickert knows. He's seen the rough times the last few years, and the potential for a quick turnaround at Washington State.
"It's been a wild three years," Dickert said. "We all know that and recognize it. We're excited to build something different and new. Washington State can put up a Mount Rushmore of quarterbacks. There are a lot of people out there. The challenge is, 'Why can't Cam be one of them?'"
Leaf recalled a conversation with his wife Anna in the airport after the spring game. Anna noticed all the Washington State fans smiling in the stands; a new-found optimism that has spread to the coaches and players. Ward is at the center of that, too.
"I think for Washington State he is the first real example of NIL if this works out and he ends up being a multiple-year starter or all-conference type of player and gets this team to the promised land," Leaf said. "I don't know how this is going to play out, but I have a lot of faith in how he was brought to Pullman."
Can Ward handle all that – the NFL comparisons, potential hype and pressure of vaulting Washington State back into the Pac-12 race? Only those who have not been paying attention would tell Ward what he does not want to hear again.
"I've been told 'no' so many times by whether it was a D1 school or a Power 5 or mid-major," he said. "I also got told 'no' by a D3 school. Every game I go in with that mindset, just do my best and try to shred teams each and every game."