The ‘ultimate competitor’: Former walk-on RB Treshaun Ward primed for key role in 2021
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - On another hot and humid day under the sun in Tallahassee, the Florida State football team gathered for its fourth preseason practice. Last Wednesday marked the first time the entire team practiced together in one session, as opposed to being split up into two groups at different times during the previous three days.
After working through individual drills to being the morning, the Seminoles began their routine 11-on-11 scrimmages. On the first play, McKenzie Milton lined up in the shotgun with Treshaun Ward at his right hip. Milton took the snap and handed the ball to Ward for a designed run off tackle to the left.
Ward quickly darted to the edge and put on the brakes at the numbers when he saw Brendan Gant there to meet him. After a quick stutter step, Ward made a cut back to the inside and raced upfield for a huge gain. After he dispatched Gant, Ward had only one man left to beat and possibly would have gone for a 70-yard touchdown had the play not been blown dead once he made his way into the open field.
That play perfectly encapsulated what Ward feels are his two greatest strengths: his vision and ability to make defenders miss. It was the kind of run that Florida State has grown accustomed to seeing from him over the last several months.
“He’s a dog. That’s what he brings,” offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham said. “You can see the big runs, you can see all that stuff, but that dude loves the game and that dude is competitive, and you can’t underestimate competitive people.”
There was a time not too long ago though where a run like that would have put the entire team in a frenzy. In Florida State’s 56-35 win over Duke last December to end its season, Ward made his second appearance of the year. On one of his two carries of the day, he burst through the middle and collected his first career touchdown from 26 yards out. The run put the entire sideline in an uproar.
Fellow running back Jashaun Corbin recalls jumping on Ward’s back as the rest of the team swarmed him on the sideline. That was the reaction to such a play last year, but now when Ward makes a highlight-reel play like the one from Wednesday, it’s almost expected.
“Treshaun, he’s always been talented, like what we’re seeing now is what we knew from, you know when I first came here,” Corbin said. “You know, he’s always been talented and he was just putting the days together, just kept working hard, special teams, making plays on offense and now you guys are starting to see what we knew. So, I’m just happy for him.”
Ward began his career at Florida State in 2019 as a walk-on after having offers from numerous power-five schools, as well as nearby USF. The Plant City, Fla. native was a Maryland pledge for over a year but then decommitted a month before National Signing Day after allegations of a toxic coaching culture under head coach DJ Durkin and strength and conditioning coach Rick Court.
Jayson Roberts, Ward’s high school coach at Tampa Bay Tech, began reaching out to other schools, but with it being so close to signing day, most teams had already filled their need at running back. Western Kentucky and Toledo were two schools that were still interested, but Ward, coming off consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, saw himself as a power-five level player.
There was one more potential avenue for Ward though. One of his assistant coaches in high school was close with David Kelly, who was FSU’s recruiting coordinator at the time. Ward was a 4.0 student in high school, which mattered. Florida State’s Academic Progress Rate in 2017-18 slipped to a 922 score, the lowest of any Power Five Football program and the lowest in program history.
A week before signing day, Willie Taggart’s staff offered Ward a preferred walk-on spot, and he accepted. His academic prowess and staying in the state of Florida earned him enough scholarship money to make Florida State reasonably affordable for his family.
“I had other opportunities to go to, but once Florida State came, I felt like I could compete at that level,” Ward said. “I trust in my abilities and I know that I could play at a power-five school like Florida State, so I just bet on myself.”
Ward’s freshman season got off to a tumultuous start. He was injured early in the season and had to miss some time. Meanwhile, Florida State continued to reel and Taggart was fired the day after a 27-10 loss at home to Miami. However, Ward worked his way back and played on special teams during a 49-12 win against Alabama State in FSU’s penultimate regular-season game of the year. He finally got his chance in the Sun Bowl against Arizona State, rushing 10 times for 44 yards.
Last season, under head coach Mike Norvell and the new staff, he was the FSU Offense Scout Team Award recipient and appeared in two games, including the one against Duke where he scored his first career touchdown.
“My coaches always say take advantage of the opportunities,” Ward said. “I just had to adjust to the game speed and realize that everyone around me is as good as me, so I just waited my turn and when the opportunity came, I just took it and ran with it.”
Ward has continued to excel academically too. He was named to the All-ACC Honor Roll in 2019 and was one of a handful of FSU players to wear the “Seminole Scholar” patch on his jersey in 2020. The patch is given to players who have at least a 3.0 GPA. Norvell used a similar motivational tactic in his previous job at Memphis with the “Tiger Scholar” patch. Furthermore, Florida State posted a team GPA of 3.127 in the spring of 2020, which was the highest in program history. The team also had its best academic fall semester last season with a team GPA of 2.8.
This past January, the third-year running back was rewarded. Ward was asleep when running backs coach David Johnson began blowing up his phone at 8 a.m. one morning. Johnson told him that Norvell had been trying to call him earlier. When Ward called Norvell back later that morning, Norvell informed him that was being put on scholarship.
“The scholarship meant a lot to me,” Ward said. “You know, taking that weight off my mom’s shoulders for paying school tuition and stuff like that…I called her that same day and she was excited, you know, saying that it was just a huge weight off her shoulders, and for me, it was time for me to keep going.
“Just because I got the scholarship doesn’t mean I can stay the same and stay mediocre. It’s allowed me to push more, and it just, you know, gave me an opportunity and allowed them to believe in me, so it took my game to the next level after getting the scholarship.”
Ward eventually being put on scholarship shouldn’t be a huge surprise. Although he was not a blue-chip recruit out of high school, he still had a three-star rating and collected offers from a plethora of power-five programs during his recruitment.
However, each time Ward’s name has been mentioned throughout preseason camp, his competitiveness has usually been the first thing that comes to mind.
“Treshaun, he is an ultimate competitor,” Norvell said. “You know, the guy started here as a walk-on, you know, as we got to watch him grow and develop, He really changed our recruiting thoughts a year ago because he’s a guy that I think has a huge upside and I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of really good backs and Treshaun has a skillset that I think can be really special. I mean, just his vision, his running ability, the toughness, what he does without the ball in his hands, I’m excited. I’m excited about his continued growth and development.”
As an example of his competitiveness, Dillingham shared a story after the team’s scrimmage Saturday night. The Florida State running backs recently went bowling against the team’s quarterbacks and lost. Dillingham says Ward has asked nearly every day since then when they would have a rematch.
“I was always competitive since I was young,” Ward said. “I always like to compete and always be that person. I don’t like to lose, so that competitiveness definitely came from when I was younger and from my family, just putting it in my head, don’t lose, just keep pushing.
Norvell says that mentality has permeated the rest of the running back room throughout the offseason and has made them a close group.
“He’s pushing all those other guys. I mean, you saw from the scrimmage the other night, those guys, they’re a competitive group, but they absolutely care about each other.”
Corbin has said that Ward is like a brother to him and that they’re glued to the hip when inside the football facility. Corbin, who led FSU running backs with 401 rushing yards last season, will likely be the starter this season. Then there’s Lawrance Toafili, who ranked second nationally with 9.62 yards per rush as a true freshman last season. The combination of those two, along with Ward, headlines what looks to be Florida State’s deepest group of running backs in several years.
There will be only a finite number of carries to split among several qualified backs, but Ward has firmly entrenched himself into the rotation with his performance over the last several months.
It sounds like something stupid, sounds like something small, but in order to win you have to have guys who want to win,” Dillingham said. “You have to have guys who want to compete, and that’s a guy who loves to compete, and it shows up. That’s why he’s great on special teams. That’s why he was a walk-on that’s dominated on the scout team that wound up playing for us, that proved his worth in spring, that’s built his way up in fall camp. It’s because that’s all he knows how to do. All he knows how to do is work. All he knows how to do is compete to win, and those are the guys we want to our left and our right.”
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