NU's Ward enjoys success on and off field

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Everyone knows most Northwestern football players possess a high level of intelligence.

Well, there’s the level where a majority of the Wildcats are at, and then there’s senior offensive tackle Patrick Ward's level.

“Sure, we got a smart group of guys on the team, but he’s above and beyond,” Northwestern senior offensive guard Brian Mulroe said of Ward after Saturday’s practice.

For starters, Ward holds a 3.94 GPA. It’s an impressive number for any major, but it especially stands out because he studies mechanical engineering.

There’s also the fact that Ward isn’t some walk-on who helps improve Northwestern’s team GPA. No, Ward is a three-year starter who will start his 40th consecutive game come the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1. The 6-foot-7, 310-pound Ward also switched from right tackle to left tackle this season.

Ward was selected as Capital One Academic All-American the past two years for his success on and off the field. He also was a recipient of the National Football Foundation National Scholar-Athlete Award, which includes an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship, and was a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy.

It’s no surprise Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald loves talking about Ward. He’s a walking a billboard for what Fitzgerald tries to sell to every recruit interested in Northwestern.

“Obviously, his academic credentials speak for themselves,” Fitzgerald said. “And his play, I think he’s an All-Big Ten level player, but that’s my opinion. I voted for him, so I have no problem saying that. He’s a terrific player. He has a bright future obviously in the NFL.

“But then he’s got job opportunities, too. That’s why you come to Northwestern, to be prepared and not be limited in your options but have flexibility. He’s a special guy.”

Mulroe agreed with Fitzgerald. As one of Ward’s roommates and teammates, Mulroe has seen up close the amount of time and effort Ward puts into everything.

“It’s very impressive,” Mulroe said. “Pat works for everything he’s gotten. He’s always working at home. Being a roommate of his just over these last few months, he’s always in his room working. It’s pretty cool, but obviously his grades are showing. He’s not just getting A’s in easy classes. He’s killing some really tough classes. It’s awesome.”

Ward, a product of Providence Catholic High school in New Lenox, Ill., credited all of it to an essential college skill -- time management.

When classes are in session and the football season is underway, Ward disciplined himself to stick with a strict schedule. He knocked out most of his homework and studied most of his game film early in the week and got ahead in classes as much as possible.

“As the week progresses and gets closer to the game day, just kind of focus in, lock in on the game and not worry about anything else,” said Ward, whose father played football at Illinois and younger brother is a freshman offensive lineman at Iowa. “That was the thing for me not ever putting yourself in a bad situation where you have to cram for both football and school.”

The most memorable stressful week of Ward’s four years actually came during the football offseason.

“There was one point and time I had two projects due at the end of a quarter in the winter,” Ward said. “That was a little bit rough. I was working on designing a prototype for a plastic bottle crusher, so we got to the last week having to build the thing, and I was in the shop probably eight hours a day. At the same time, I was working on a mechatronics project where I was controlling the movement of a motor, so that was another four, five hours a day. ... They both turned out pretty well.”

Ward’s future is uncertain. He’s hoping to play in the NFL. But whenever his playing career does end, he plans to return to school for a master’s degree.

For now, Ward’s focus is on enhancing his senior class’s history. The seniors won a school-record 38 games during a five-year span and will be making their fifth consecutive bowl appearance.

“I think the big thing is the level of success we’ve attained here,” Ward said. “I think we’ve raised the level of expectations for Northwestern football to the point where we are expecting to go to a bowl game each year, expecting to go to a New Year ’s Day bowl each year. We go into each game believing and expecting we should win. I think that’s the biggest thing -- kind of a mentality change that we’ve had where we’re moving toward elite status. That’s where we believe that we can be, we should be and we will be.”

Mulroe swears Ward does like to have fun, too, and occasionally sees Ward enjoying something not academic or football related.

“He’s a bit of a movie buff,” Mulroe said. “I know he likes SpongeBob SquarePants. I always hear that going through his room. I’m like, ‘What is doing? Is he working?’ I go, ‘Pat, is that for a project?’ He goes, ‘I like SpongeBob SquarePants.’ I was like, ‘Okay, sounds good.’ Yeah, I’m sure he doesn’t want that to be out in the public, but that’s alright, put it out there.”