Super Bowl pros on signing day: 'It was a big day in knowing that my college was paid for'
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - After suffering an injury his senior season at De La Salle High School, TJ Ward received exactly zero offers to play college football. But Nick Aliotti, who was Oregon's defensive coordinator at the time, had a brother who was dean of students at Ward's high school.
TJ Ward didn't receive an offer to play college ball. Now a Denver Broncos safety, he said decided to walk on at Oregon as a Duck, motivated to prove everybody wrong.
"I know that I got hurt in high school," said the Broncos safety in town for Super Bowl 50, "but for me to know that I was good enough and better than a lot of players that did get scholarships, so when I did get that opportunity to walk on at Oregon, I was going to be better than all their scholarship players. That's how I felt, like I'm going to out play all these dudes they brought here on scholarship, I'm going to start over all these dudes, and I'm going to prove them wrong, and that's what I've been doing my whole life."
Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart said his commitment to Oregon didn't come with a lot of fanfare.
"My signing day wasn't a big deal or anything," he said. "I just went to my high school, and I think I put on a hat."
Derek Anderson, a Panthers quarterback, had a similar experience when he committed to Oregon State to play as a Beaver.
"It wasn't anything that was over the top," he recalled. "I think there was a few people at the school, coaches were there, my family was there and off we went."
Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware received one offer - from Troy University. He turned that into a decade-long NFL career with 9 Pro Bowl appearances, a defensive player of the year award, and a spot on the all-decade team of the 2000s.
But he recalls the day as a landmark not just for him, but for his family.
"It was a big day in knowing that my college was paid for, but also that I was able to change a lot of lives in my family as one of the first to go to college," said DeMarcus Ware, Broncos defensive end.