For Lynette Ward, it was the best Mother’s Day present she could imagine. For her son, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.
Eric Ward, a former star quarterback at Southwest DeKalb, signed a free agent contract with the Atlanta Falcons and broke the news on Mother’s Day.
“I couldn’t ask for a better Mother’s Day present,” Lynette Ward said. “I’m very excited and very proud of what he’s accomplished and that he’s gotten as far as he has.”
The son of Lynette and Clifford Ward, Eric earned a scholarship to the University of Richmond and proceeded to rewrite the record books at the school. As a starter for four years, Ward helped the Spiders win a NCAA Football Championship Subdivision national title in 2008. He also became Richmond’s career leader in completion percentage and touchdown passes.
Ward was not heavily recruited out of high school and turned down an offer by Central Michigan to sign with Richmond. He blossomed at the Colonial Athletic Association school and ended his career with 8,969 yards passing and 10,375 yards in total offense. The Spiders were 41-12 with Ward at quarterback and won two conference championships.
“The fact that he won a national championship in college speaks volumes about the kind of player he is,” Southwest DeKalb coach Buck Godfrey said.
Not chosen in the NFL Draft in April, Ward signed with the Falcons after a tryout and attended a mandatory rookie minicamp. He also worked out at the team’s summer camp that began last week.
“I’m comfortable here,” said Ward, who also tried out with the New York Jets. “It’s very exciting to be out here playing for the team I grew up watching.”
Wearing the red No. 13 jersey, Ward took snaps alongside Falcons starter Matt Ryan and the other quarterbacks.
As if anything could top the Mother’s Day surprise, Lynette Ward got a chance to see her son in a Falcons’ uniform at the rookie minicamp.
“I was impressed,” Lynette Ward said. “I told him he looked like he fit right in out there.”
Ward admits he still has a lot to learn but is making the most of his experience. He is one of five quarterbacks on the roster, and coach Mike Smith traditionally keeps three quarterbacks during the regular season.
“The first week things were kind of flying over my head,” Ward said. “But after the minicamp things were making more sense. I’m picking up on things better. It’s a learning experience and the one-on-one sessions with (quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave) helped.”
Lynette Ward was not the only one excited about her son’s accomplishment. He has the attention of everyone at his high school alma mater. Godfrey relayed that sentiment in a text message shortly after Ward signed with the Falcons.
“I told him the whole Southwest DeKalb community applauds you and we’re with you whatever you do,” Godfrey said. “I thanked him for being who he is.”
Who he is also is what attracted the Falcons to Ward.
“We were impressed with his arm in tryouts,” Falcons coach Smith said. “He’s in a situation where he needs to learn as much as he can and we were impressed with what he was able to pick up in the meeting rooms.”
Godfrey, who has been able to mentor Ward and watch him grow over the years, thinks Ward will make the most of the opportunity. Godfrey compares Ward’s ability and field presence to that of former Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell, who now plays in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders.
“Eric’s a quiet kid, a student of the game and doesn’t rattle easily,” Godfrey said. “He’s one of the most reserved guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching. He’s one hell of a player and a good solid kid.
“Campbell has great mechanics and a great respect for the game,” Godfrey continued. “He understands about playing a role and the concept of team. Eric is the same way.”
Ward said he is happy for the opportunity, which rivals his parents’ excitement for their son.
“They were excited about me signing,” Ward said. “They told me it’s like a dream come true. I told them I’ve got a lot more work to do. This is just the beginning, but they’re really happy about everything.”