LAWTON, Okla. -- Head football coach Randy Breeze started to become accustomed to top college coaches showing up to his Lawton team's practices a couple of years ago. In 2011, prospects Tyrequek Zimmerman and Jabral Johnson, who both signed with Oregon State, had schools flocking to the southwest Oklahoma city.
But as coaches were coming in for Zimmerman and Johnson, they started to notice sophomore defensive end D.J. Ward. And coaches haven't stopped paying attention to Ward since. At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, Ward has been on the radar of many top programs for a while.
The school that has been the most relentless in its pursuit of Ward? Oklahoma. The Sooners don't have a history of targeting and offering in-state underclassmen, but sometimes even the OU coaching staff knows that if it doesn't act quickly, then it might not be able to act at all.
Ward fits that category as OU offered him at the end of his sophomore year, something rarely done by the Sooners.
"It definitely made me feel special because people were saying how it's not like OU to do something like that," Ward said. "What it really did was make me realize how special my talents are and how hard I had to keep working to get where I want to be."
Already with offers from OU, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Auburn, among others, the interest has not died down.
And as the spring evaluation period rolls around, even Breeze is a little surprised by some of the schools that are talking about coming down to visit Lawton.
"I've talked with coaches at Ohio State and USC and Notre Dame," Breeze said. "I don't have to tell you, but we're not used to seeing those types of teams come in. It's very exciting."
The interest with the Trojans and Irish is still in the early process, but the Buckeyes have made a huge impression on Ward.
Ward, not known for being the most vocal recruit, listed a top three of OU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State last week. To see the top two in-state schools in the list of three was not a shock, but seeing the Buckeyes caught many people off guard.
"I've been talking to Coach [Mike] Vrabel a lot, and my dad is from the area so there is definitely some interest there," Ward said. "My dad went to Akron, but he's always been a big Ohio State guy, and I guess it sort of rubbed off on me, too."
Ward hopes to visit Ohio State, but he's not sure when that would be possible. What he does know is he will be one of several Lawton recruits making the short trip northeast to Norman for OU's Red-White spring game on Saturday.
Ward said he doesn't have a mission for Saturday, saying only that he wants to see some familiar faces and talk again with OU defensive ends coach Bobby Jack Wright. Ward has a great relationship with Wright, but he admits that he doesn't call back Wright as often as he should.
Ward and 2013 cornerback Maurice Chandler have been invited to attend OU's spring game, and Ward is going to take 2014 defensive tackle prospect Ivan Thomas as his guest.
"It means a lot to me that D.J. is going to take me there," Thomas said. "I want to get to meet the coaches and hopefully start building a relationship with the coaches the way D.J. has."
Following the spring game, Ward said he doesn't have any plans to visit other schools. Nobody questions his speed so he said he has focused his offseason training on strength to become more of a complete package.
If you ask his teammates, Ward already is the real deal.
"Last year against [Lawton] MacArthur, and D.J. is going in to tackle the quarterback," Thomas recalled. "The QB got scared and slid down and D.J. just towered over him. That's the kind of presence he has."
For all the attention Ward is getting, he still hasn't changed who he is.
"D.J. is a great kid," Breeze said. "He is so respectful and so humble. He could be cocky or arrogant because he is that good, but that's not the kind person he is. You just wish you had more kids like D.J. on your team."