Updated: Jun 27, 2022
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
In the second half of 2021's regular season, the Tigers forged a defensive revival led by stone cold veterans, backups turned starters, and young stunners alike......however, mentioning any names without paying tribute to Jay Ward would be criminal:
LSU's 2019 National Champion DB consistently supplied hard-nosed leadership, warrior performances and defiant playmaking for an under-manned, injury-riddled DBU:
Over the past two seasons, as nationally recognized DBU alumni became consistently absent through injury, opt out or transfer (Derek Stingley Jr, Eli Ricks, Cordale Flott etc), Ward took full advantage, logging an incredible amount of snaps & playing at or near his ultimate level for 2 consecutive campaigns:
Ripping down 3 interceptions at cornerback during 2020 (including a pick six on Ole Miss QB Matt Corral), Jay provided proof of his all around secondary abilities as a junior: switching to safety for the Tigers in 2021 & leading the team with 2 more interceptions.
Jay adapted well to his new safety role, showcasing remarkable poise, anticipation, instincts when dissecting the run game or quarterback, forcing turnovers, dislodging catches with precise timing, scaring Heisman-winning QBs, Ward can do it all....topping off his impressive resume by issuing devastating hits throughout the season.
In the aftermath of his junior year, LSU Odyssey placed Jay at #5 on our Best XI Tigers of 2021, though his influence arguably places him even higher; we also broke the news that Jay would be returning for his senior season, disregarding the NFL Draft for one last shot to seal his DBU legacy.
Our own kinship with Jay Ward begins back 2 years ago:
Watching him ball in garbage time vs Ole Miss and Oklahoma in 2019, we understood the former Colquitt standout would be a future great at LSU. Since 2020, I began a long-standing correspondence with Ward, which culminated in our meeting this past March.
In the wake of our in person meeting, Jay agreed to do an exclusive pre-season interview with LSU Odyssey, covering his career, the upcoming 2022 campaign & everything in between:
LONN: Welcome Jay! Thank you for joining us! I wanted to start all the way back with your recruitment to LSU. Actually you first committed to Kentucky in 2018 before a December visit to LSU seemed to flip things. Wasn't (LSU's current defensive coordinator) Matt House on that staff?
JAY: Yea! Coach House gave me my first offer!
LONN: That's hilarious! What a small world! Who played the biggest role in you leaving Georgia and becoming a Tiger??
JAY: Well LSU has always been a dream school, so once I got that offer I knew I wanted to be a Tiger.
LONN: But you grew up in Georgia, so how did LSU become your dream school?
JAY: I mean, watching the DBs who played here before made an impact on me.
LONN: Your family also had an impact on your path. You're one of 3 brothers, Johnny & Ji, both have successful football careers themselves....how has having your brothers in your life made you who you are today?
JAY: Me and my brothers compete in everything; we always trying to see who's the best Ward brother.
LONN: How much did your parents / family impact your journey in and out of football?
JAY: My mom don’t know much about football, she just know when we do some good, but my brothers....we always try to see who did the best that week. That made a huge impact because I wanted to be the best, plus, football kept us out of trouble.
LONN: When you arrived at LSU, you were part of what will go down as one of the best freshman DBU classes, 2019 DBU: you, Flott, Stingley, Raydar all as freshmen. What was it like developing alongside some of these guys??
JAY: I was able to learn from each of them because we all played different.
LONN: What was it about that 2019 squad??? What made it so special??
JAY: We had the talent at every position and we was very competitive. I mean, I accomplished some goals and I was happy playing in the College Football Playoff as a freshman, I broke up 2 passes that day.
LONN: Yes vs Jalen Hurts' Oklahoma, you went mano e mano against the current franchise QB for Philadelphia as a freshman! After the Oklahoma game, you won a National Championship inside the Superdome as an LSU Tiger.....what do you remember most about that night?
JAY: My most vivid memory that night was the confetti.
LONN: Moving on to 2020, when you hurt your meniscus before Week 1, how long were you expected to be out?
JAY: I was going to take it slow, because I didn’t wanna rush and play so....about 4-6 weeks.
LONN: When were you made aware that you wouldn't just be playing Week 1, you'd need to start for LSU vs Mississippi State?
JAY: I was aware like the night before.
LONN: What kind of condition was your meniscus in? Did you even think for one second about not being able to play on it???
JAY: I wanted to play anyways but I was like Naw! But when they asked me "(if they thought) I could play?" I couldn’t tell them no because I wanted to be out there.
LONN: You even blitzed QB KJ Costello, at full speed and were a split second from forcing a fumble...but he got out of bounds just barely....how did you last for 4 quarters that day?
JAY: I always wanted a sack, that would’ve been my first one! But he got rid of it.
I mean, once I’m out there, I’m out there. People didn’t know I was hurt so I just tried to play like I wasn’t....even though I was. I felt like I played slow, because I wasn’t doing nothing for 2 weeks (before the game).
LONN: There was a lot of criticism following that game, 44 points, 600+ passing yards, Miss State broke records on us. Did the criticism hurt, specifically since you were playing through a very limiting, very painful injury?
JAY: Naw they didn’t hurt me, I don’t care what others think of me. I played hurt because my brothers needed me.
LONN: In 2020, there were a lot of defensive problems and most of that blame has fallen at the feet of former defensive coordinator Bo Pelini. Can you tell us what really went down and why 2020's defense had those record-low issues?
JAY: I’ll say communication problems on the defensive side.
LONN: 2020 was very weird for everyone, but it was pretty bizarre to see Pelini, a man who led one of our most storied defenses back in 2007, return and have THAT kinda season.
JAY: (No Comment).
LONN: As for your career, you had a breakthrough moment in my opinion vs Arkansas, when you launched yourself at a potential game-tying field goal and rejected that shit like Mutumbo.
JAY: I made back to back plays that drive because of film study: once I seen the back come out, I knew I had him. As for the field goal, I mean, I been blocking field goals and punts since high school. I always had good timing and eye coordination.
LONN: You finished your 2020 season on a tear though....2 picks on Matt Corral vs Ole Miss, one you took to the house, then you had another pick vs Florida on your damn knees, stopped TDs with nice interventions & made some badass tackles all over the place:
Did You see an opportunity for yourself to really make a breakthrough?
JAY: I knew my sophomore (season) was going to be unbelievable, because I knew I had to make plays to play that year. All I needed was an opportunity. Once that came, I knew it was my turn to prove it to them that I can play.
LONN: Coming into 2021, when your former Defensive Coordinator Daronte Jones and DBs Coach Corey Raymond first asked you to switch from corner to safety, what was your initial reaction?
JAY: They asked me to move so they can have me on the field instead of the bench. I was okay with moving because I wanted to play.
LONN: How would you describe how you played after the safety switch & last season overall?
JAY: I played alright. I could've did better! But this year, I'm coming for everything I deserve.
LONN: You guys had all these injuries to major guys, Stingley, Anthony, Ricks, Gaye, so many Tigers out: After Kentucky, how did you guys turn it around for those final 6 games and really do a complete 180....all while still depleted?
JAY: We switched things up because we was missing a lotta key players. After all the injuries, we was trying to find ourselves on defense, but once we did, we was rolling.
LONN: We have to talk about the Alabama game. You had one of your greatest ever performances as a Tiger, maybe the best of your career. You put that hit heard 'round the world on Heisman-winning QB Bryce Young.....
JAY: We don’t fuck with the opps, so I had to slide on him.
LONN: (laughs) Did you two ever talk about the hit, either right after the play or since?
JAY: Naw, me and Bryce never talked about it.
LONN: What do you remember most from that game? It was historic....only allowed 6 rushing yards and nearly beat the #1 team in America at that time....really against all odds.
JAY: Even though we lost, we fought 'till the very end, even with all the injured players out. My mother always taught us to never give up, so imma go out there and play the best I can every down.
LONN: Was that Alabama game the hardest you've ever played on a football field? You guys were just spent at 0:00.
JAY: I don’t believe that was my hardest game I played, to be honest.
LONN: Which one? K-State in the Texas Bowl?
JAY: Yes, Kansas State was hard because we were missing a lot of people.
LONN: You've really clocked the miles at LSU...you've played a ton of football, a lot of games that weren't for the faint of heart, either. Playing through injuries or without key teammates, playing against incredible odds, winning a title, then going under .500, yet you've directly played a role in winning some big SEC games. Do you feel that will help you, not just as a senior, but in the NFL?
JAY: I feel like I can adapt to any team in the NFL, because I can play any position at any time.
LONN: As we discussed before, you and your new Defensive Coordinator go back 4 1/2 years, with Coach House offering you a scholarship at Kentucky....a school you committed to for half a year. Do you see your relationship with Coach House defining your senior role on defense in 2022?
JAY: Me and Coach House's relationship is great. I’m going to take over the backfield and make sure every one is on the same page.
LONN: With a lot of new transfers on this secondary, how do you feel DBU will fare in 2022, honestly?
JAY: I believe we will have the best secondary this season.
LONN: At the end of your senior year, how do you want to be remembered as an LSU Tiger, Jay?
JAY: I want to be remembered as a team player who did whatever it takes to win! (An) All American.
LONN: Thank You Jay, i Hope to do this again soon!
JAY: Thank you for your time.
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2022 Uninterrupted Writings Inc