Channing Ward ready for the big stage

ABERDEEN, Miss. -- You know you have something special when you can ask your massive All-American ESPNU 150 defensive end Channing Ward to play cornerback and shut down the opponent's top receiver. Then again, Aberdeen head coach Thomas Duncan knew a long time ago what he had in Ward. Nothing surprises Duncan, especially being announced as an Under Armour All-American Thursday as part of the American Family Insurance jersey presentation tour.

"This is so big for our school, program and the entire community of Aberdeen," said Duncan. "He's representing everyone in our community on a great national forum. It's big for us, no doubt."

Ward wasn't even a freshman at the high school yet he still made their junior varsity team as an eighth grader back in 2007. Then, Ward was already 6-2 and 210 pounds.

"I told Channing back in the eighth grade that if he did what he was supposed to do everyone in the country would be after him," Duncan said. "I knew he was just special and had a chance to play big-time ball. He was making plays and dominating. Going into the final game of our varsity season, our starting linebacker got hurt. Channing took his place and started. He made a big sack in the game and I knew. I knew."

Cora Ward, his mother, knew something at an even earlier age.

"He has always been big and always been good," she said. "He always loved the game. I remember when he played pee-wee football he would get dressed in his uniform at 9 a.m. for a game at noon. He's just as excited now. We knew early that he would just be a good player."

Ward now stands 6-4 and weighs 255 pounds. He currently the nation's No. 9 ranked defensive end, the No. 72 recruit overall and the No. 2 prospect from the state of Mississippi. Even at that size he was asked to play cornerback last Friday and man up against Nettleton's top wide receiver.

"That was fun," Ward said. "You have to have the will to win and do whatever it takes. I think I played that guy really well. I just jammed him up. He didn't do anything."

Aberdeen won 35-20. According to Duncan he has also played safety this season and some tight end. There's not much he can't do.

"Channing did very well last week," Duncan said. "He never let that kid get off the ball. He also plays some safety for us. He'll play wherever we need him. You should see him play tight end.

"As a defensive end he's just a big kid that can really run. He's so quick off the ball. He has the luxury of being big, fast, strong and so quick. And he has those long arms you love in defensive ends."

Ward started his high school career at linebacker but put his hand in the dirt as a sophomore. Despite his athleticism and versatility that will be his primary position once he leaves Aberdeen.

"Channing has gotten so much bigger," Duncan said. "He put on 20 pounds this offseason and that has really helped him. He hasn't lost his speed or quickness and once he gets to college he will get a whole lot bigger."

College and his upcoming decision is something that's weighing on the mind of Ward. He's down to five schools -- LSU, Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Auburn. For now, he has only made one official visit and that was to LSU (Oct. 7) when the Tigers hosted Florida.

"That was a good, fun visit," Ward said. "I love the people at LSU. They are all so good. The game there was crazy and so loud. LSU fans love their football and they really support the program. They really have it going on right now. LSU has a good coaching staff that knows what they are doing. The coaches have been through it all.

"Right now I don't have anything else planned but I would like to still try and take all my official visits to the other schools. I just haven't set up anything yet."

Ward has had a busy fall visiting games unofficially. Last week he was in Oxford for Alabama/Ole Miss. He has also seen Mississippi State/LSU as well as Alabama against Arkansas. This week he hopes to get up to Tuscaloosa for the Crimson Tide/Volunteer game. Of course, he has the SAT on Saturday.

Despite the attention away from the field and the pressure of recruiting, he has handled the process well. Duncan, who played college football at Delta State, has tried to prepare Ward for the recruiting storm.

"I went through it," Duncan said. "Nothing like what Channing has gone through but I was recruited and I tried to prepare him for what was coming. I think he has handled things very well."

His mom would agree. She knows the burden Channing assumes and that everyone in the small town of Aberdeen is watching, watching very closely.

"Channing has taken it all in stride," she said. "He talks with all the coaches and he talks with all the little kids. He makes the time. He hasn't let the pressure get to him. We talk a lot about it and he knows his family is here for him and support whatever decision he makes and where he goes."

For Ward, he can draw on past experiences to help him guide the way, whether it's picking his school, playing in the Under Armour Game or making the jump to college football.

"I look back at playing in the eighth grade and I was a little nervous when I was with the varsity," admitted Ward. "Sure I was big but the speed was different and guys were quicker and stronger. That's how things will be in the Under Armour Game. That's how it will be in college. I think the experiences I have had will help me prepare for what's ahead and what I am up against."

Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting both in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at jamienewbergbw@yahoo.com.