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September 11, 2018

Morris: Lewis Ward has high expectations in rookie season

Adam Gagnon/CFL.ca

During the Ottawa REDBLACKS loss to the BC Lions last weekend, placekicker Lewis Ward didn’t come onto the pitch for a field goal attempt until just over six minutes were gone in the third quarter.

That play was a fake, which meant Ward had to wait until 1:54 was gone in the fourth quarter before hitting on a 44-yard field goal. He was good on a 31-yard attempt later in the quarter.

Being patient while staying confident is nothing new to Ward. His perseverance and belief in himself help explain why the 26-year-old rookie from Kingston, Ont., has been good on 29 straight field goals, the fourth longest streak in CFL history.

“You never know how long you are going to wait,” said Ward. “It’s all about making sure in your mind you are ready. You can get called up any minute. You’ve always got to be preparing (like) it’s going to happen soon.”

In his first CFL game Ward was good on his first three kicks before sending a 48-yard attempt wide.

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Ward kicks a field goal against the Toronto Argonauts (Adam Gagnon/CFL.ca)

“I’d like that one back in the first game,” Ward said. “I remember what it feels like, the things not to do.”

Ward hasn’t missed since, giving him the longest streak ever by a first-year player. He is 32 of 33 on the season with nine of his field goals coming from 40 yards or more.

Ward was five-for-five in a July 20 game against the Lions and the next week kicked seven field goals in a win over Hamilton. He was good on 47-yard attempts in both games.

His performance may have surprised some people but not Ward.

“I have the expectation I shouldn’t be missing,” he said. “I’m here for a reason. I’m a pro for a reason. I shouldn’t be missing.

“The streak has just come along with the success we are having and the work we put in throughout the week.”

What impresses head coach Rick Campbell is Ward’s calm, calculated manner.

“He really has a great demeanor about him,” said Campbell. “He’s a very steady guy. We thought he could have a really good year.

“The best thing he has is his mental approach. He doesn’t’ get phased by much. We’re lucky to have him.”

While playing for the Ottawa Gee-Gees Ward established himself as one of the best kickers in U SPORTS. He wasn’t taken in the 2017 draft so returned for a fifth year of college.

Being overlooked in the daft was “bittersweet.”

“I was a little upset at first,” Ward said. “But I wouldn’t have had that extra year of experience or broken any of the records I broke if I didn’t have the extra year.”

While at college, Ward worked as a security guard at TD Place Stadium. Some of the guards he worked with now cheer for him during games.

Ward has made 32 of 33 field goal attempts so far in 2018 (Adam Gagnon/CFL.ca)

During his final year in college Ward made 24 of 29 field goals, with the longest being 46 yards. He finished his university career with 89 field goals, setting an Ontario University Athletic record. His 412 points left him the leading scorer in Gee-Gees history and third all-time in U SPORTS.

Ward signed with the REDBLACKS in January, then beat out three other players for the placekicking job during training camp.

“I’ve known I could play at this level for the last two or three years in my university career,” said Ward.

“I knew when my opportunity came I was going to do some good things here.”

If Ward connects on his first field goal when the REDBLACKS (6-5) play Saskatchewan (7-4) on Saturday, he will be tied with Paul McCallum for the third-longest CFL streak of 30 consecutive field goals.

Calgary’s Rene Paredes holds the CFL record of 39 consecutive field goals set between Sept. 23, 2012 and Aug. 23, 2013. Paredes also had a streak of 32 completions between July 8 and Sept. 5, 2016.

Ward’s currently has a 97 per cent completion ratio.  Paredes holds the CFL record by hitting on 94.7 per cent of his kicks in 2013.

Montreal’s Boris Bede set the record for first-year players when he was good on 90 per cent of his field goals in 2015.

Ward was born in England and moved to Canada when he was in Grade 8. He grew up playing soccer.

“Even playing soccer my dad said I could put a ball where ever I wanted to on a field,” he said.

Off the field, Ward doesn’t look like your typical football player. He’s generously listed at five-foot-seven and doesn’t have a chiseled body.

Richie Leone, the Ottawa punter who also holds on field goals, said Ward is strong where it counts.

“The reason why guys in college don’t make it, it’s because of the mental aspect,” said Leone. “He’s coming to work every day.

“I think down the stretch we’ll need some big kicks. I think he’s really going to come through for us.”

Ward is just at the beginning of his career, but he talks like a veteran when discussing his road to the CFL.

“I tell young guys, just because it doesn’t happen when you want it to happen, it doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen at all,” he said. “You just have to stay patient, keep working at it and eventually it will work out.”

As for his early success, it’s something Ward expected.

“I expected when I got my opportunity that I would do things like this,” he said. “I expect to come out and make all the kicks I can.”