It's not often you see a 295-pound defensive end who played wide receiver and defensive back as late as his junior year in high school. Former Illinois defensive lineman Jihad Ward, who the Raiders selected at pick 44 in the second round of the draft is that guy.
"I was really just getting big," said Ward. "I was playing wide receiver and defensive back at the time. I started learning defensive end my senior year in high school and just kept developing as I got bigger. I was more of an offensive player playing tight end in JuCo and defensive end my JuCo coach told me about and I was just with it. . . I was really a Dlineman going on in JuCo so I was just sticking with it. Still learning the game."
The junior college route is common for players who are late bloomers like Ward. He needed those two seasons to develop so he could gain interest from a division one school. That college was Illinois, where he played two seasons, but saw his numbers go down across the board from his junior to senior season.
His first season, he put up 3.0 sacks, and 8.5 tackles for loss. As a senior, he had just 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. Not the kind of numbers you expect from a guy who should show an upward trajectory after having taken up the position just three years before.
"Everybody knows I didn't have good numbers last season," Ward said. "Everybody knows that, but it's all about getting better. You gotta learn from your mistakes and make sure you don't have those mistakes again. I'm here to learn from the veterans on the Dline and one of the best head coaches in the NFL and I'm just ready."