Oct. 21, 2009

By Kyle Kensing

Flash doesn't define Richmond quarterback Eric Ward. His statistics alone aren't likely to blow away passive observers. 

"We're not a spread offense where [he] throws 50 times a game and we're not an offense that requires him to be a part of the running game," explained Spiders head coach Mike London.

But Ward has compiled impressive numbers throughout his career perhaps more important than any individual mark.

"Just look at the record, and look at his career and what he's doing now. He's made the case to be considered one of the best in the country," London said. 

Ward is 36-10 since taking over as Richmond's starting quarterback his freshman year. Included in that tally are marks of 14-5 against the top 25, and a 30-6 overall record since 2007.

Perhaps chief among any number in Ward's career ledger is four - as in the number of playoff games he won in 2008 en route to that season's National Championship. Among that run was a semifinal, fourth quarter drive that led the Spiders past Northern Iowa and into the title game.

Such final stanza heroics are nothing new for Ward - he's had seven in his career. For some, Ward showing such poise in high-pressure situations is no surprise.

"That's one of the coolest, most calm and collected dudes I've seen," said former Richmond and current Arizona Cardinal running back Tim Hightower.

Hightower shared the backfield with Ward in the quarterback's first two seasons at Richmond. Hightower said those campaigns when Ward was an underclassman helped shape the snaptaker into the leader he is today.

"He sat back and observed. He learned a lot," Hightower said. "He's passionate about what he does. It's good to see him develop over the years, and watching them during that championship run last year you could tell he developed into that leadership role."

Current teammates share that sentiment, as Ward's teammates voting him a 2009 captain proves.  And in that leader's role, Ward has the Spiders off to a 6-0 start in what Ward says is "a complete team effort."

"I've got a great group of guys around me. I've got one of the better receiving corps in NCAA," he said. "The offensive line has done a great job. I've only been sacked three times and had plenty of time to throw the ball."

As the nation's top ranked team and the defending national champions, Richmond is likely to get opponents' best effort as Ward said.

"We understand we're going to get everyone's best, so we have to come out with our A-game every week," he said.

Starting with a Week 1 defeat of a now 3-3 Duke team, Ward and the Spiders have answered those challenges.

Or, as Ward put it: "Everything's working well right now."

London gives much credit for that smooth flow to his quarterback.

"He can manage a game, he can make tough throws, he can use his feet to get out of trouble," London said.

Ward has used those attributes through the first half of the '09 slate to complete nearly 66 percent of his passes. That has translated into over 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns, and most recently back-to-back Colonial Athletic Association wins over James Madison and Maine.

As Ward stated, the season is going well for his Spiders. But as Hightower points out, it's Ward's ability to perform when the pressure's on that helps the quarterback stand out.

"When things are going bad, can you still make those throws and not throw an interception. Can step up in there and pick your team up? That's the No. 1 characteristic he has. It's that confidence - he believes in his ability and he believes in his teammates," Hightower said. 

Ward has shown that faith sacrificing individual statistics - "He's got the ability and arm strength to put up the [big] numbers," London said - and buying into the team philosophy.

"We're a team that will run the ball, we'll throw the ball. We're a balanced attack," London said.

In '07, that meant sharing opportunities with Hightower as the tailback rushed for over 137 yards per game en route to a semifinal finish. Last season, it meant perhaps throwing for a few less scores while Josh Vaughn posted 20 touchdowns to help in the championship effort.

But ultimately, London said, that's why the Spiders have succeeded.

"Teams bringing eight down in the box, that's going to allow Eric, because he does a great job reading coverages, to throw the ball. And then when they run a three-deep scheme or a four-deep scheme, then it allows for the running backs to...use their offensive line," he said.

That balance has helped the Spiders continue and win. It's also helping Ward get into the record books.

This season he eclipsed the 8,000-yard mark in total offense, becoming the first player in program history to do so. Last week he set the program's career passing touchdown mark at 55.

But in typical Eric Ward fashion, his biggest footprint may not be anything measured statistically.

"Words can't even begin to describe his contributions to the program," London said.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Special thanks to Michael DeGeorge of the Richmond Athletic Dept.