Pat Fitzgerald prides his Northwestern program on welcoming only true student-athletes -- gifted both in the classroom and on the football field. The coach was gleaming with pride when he spoke of Wildcat senior tackle Patrick Ward.
"I'm not so sure there's anybody smarter than Patrick Ward in college football today," Fitzgerald said.
Ward was named a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, honoring the nation's most outstanding scholar-athlete. The lowest grade he has received was in a mechanical engineering class. And it was an A-minus.
"There's probably some bright guys, but I know we don't have anybody else with only one A-minus (as worst grade) in mechanical engineering at Northwestern. I'll put Patrick's grades up against anybody's."
How does Ward respond to his coach's high praise?
"I appreciate the compliment," said Ward. "I just try to go out there and do what I'm supposed to do each play."
While Ward is named to the honor roll each quarter, his on-field performances have earned 'A' grades, too. That's no coincidence.
Ward has learned to prepare for each game by using study methods he has acquired as a student. Being a scholar-athlete has paid off in the locker room.
"It helps in preparing for games," Ward explained. "Being able to watch film, pick up on tendencies, read defense, and get an idea of what's coming before the play starts, and be able to react that much quicker."
During team meetings and film study, Ward takes diligent notes, just as he does in classes. Each week, he front-loads his game studies to ensure he has time to cram if needed.
"I'm always taking notes," Ward said. "I'm drawing up fronts, trying to get an idea of what the defense is trying to accomplish beforehand. Just by repetition and practicing it, I think I'm able to achieve that."
The extensive game studies has helped Ward make a seamless transition from the right tackle to the "blindside" position prior to his senior season. Northwestern's offensive line has allowed just 11 sacks in six games and the Wildcats have averaged 231.8 yards per game on the season.
Ward is a scholar student-athlete, and he can credit that to steadfast studying.