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Local football player also competes in rugby

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By Bill Sorrell
Whether Matt Ward wears it or not, he puts on the attitude that his white t-shirt with red letters commands: “Give Blood, Play Rugby.”
“To me, ‘give blood, play rugby,’ means that you have to give everything you got and leave it on the pitch. Seeing that phrase just reminds me that rugby is a tough sport. Even if there is some blood, it’s all worth it,” said Ward, who is captain of the Germantown Red Devils rugby club team and was captain of Germantown High School’s football team where he was a center.
Ward keeps the shirt in his bag that he takes to the field (which rugby players call pitch) and wears it during some matches. A week after the Red Devils’ football season ended, he was participating in the West Tennessee Fall Conference Championships in Millington at USA Stadium.
Staying competitive helped Ward move on after the Red Devils lost in the first-round of the playoffs to Nashville Overton.
“Even though we lost, it helped me to recover better. I know I have more things to look forward to,” said Ward, who was honorable-mention all-region this season and second-team all-district in 2014. “I have to be doing something. I can’t stop moving.”
Ward has found rugby, which he has played four years, to be more aggressive than football.
“It’s no pads, all out straight going for each other. It’s another feeling out there. I get to use the ball.
“I get to hit people a lot more in rugby than in football,” he continued. “I get to tackle and run with the ball. As center on the football team, all I got to do is block. It’s fun.”
Germantown’s team, which is comprised of players from Germantown, Houston and Collierville, competes against other teams including Brighton, Christian Brothers High School, Soulsville, Power Center Academy, White Station, Freedom Prep.
Players compete seven-on-seven during the fall and 15-on-15 in the spring. Ward is the “quarterback” on the spring team, which will begin competition in February. Rugby is considered a club sport by the TSSAA.
Ward, who is 6-0 and weighs 220 pounds, wanted to play two different sports.
“I’m different. I do different sports than most people. I am not like the normal kind of person you meet,” he said.
He has had to make transitions including learning to tackle differently, mainly because of head placement.
Red Devils rugby coach Kevin Rodel calls it “hawk” tackling. It teaches players to keep their head out of contact and it has less concussion instances,” said Rodel, who played rugby at the University of Memphis from 2002-03. “Football players are embracing it.”
Ward’s rugby background helped him in football said Rodel.

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Matt Ward

“We teach him how to be physical, how to be more fit, how to tackle safely.”
A senior, Ward would play either sport in college or both. He has been contacted by Bethel University, Hendrix College, Anderson (Indiana) University, Rhodes and Birmingham-Southern about playing football.
With a 3.7 grade-point average, Ward plans to major in kinesiology or exercise science.
His best football moments during the 2015 season came when Germantown defeated each Shelby County municipality, Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville and Houston. The Red Devils finished 5-6. Ward was nominated all-state.
He pushed through injuries. A halfback, he played half the season with a pulled groin muscle and played six games with a bruised medial collateral ligament.
“No matter how hard it is going to be, I am always going to keep pushing for it,” said Ward. “Nothing was given to me because of my size. I had to work for it everyday. It could be taken away from me in one day.”
His leadership was evident in football and is in rugby.
“Matt is a solid player, more importantly he is a great leader. He encourages the younger players. He has a great, positive attitude. He embodies the spirit of team,” said Rodel, who started the Red Devils team in 2009 and a middle school team in 2011. He has coached rugby for nine years and played on a Memphis men’s club team from 2009-2013.
“I have been teaching him since middle school. For six years, I have watched him grow as a young man. I have watched him grow with confidence and watched him improve as a player. I am a volunteer. I love doing this. I love the game. I love giving back to kids. I love being a positive role model.”
In rugby Ward was Freshman of the Year after Germantown finished as state runner-up in 2012.
Germantown assistant rugby coach Craig McGee said that Ward, 17, brings “enthusiasm, heart, a go-get-it attitude along with leadership and caring.
“When somebody else is down, he will come alongside and encourage them. He has a good attitude. You don’t see outbursts of wrath and keeps his head straight and wants to make a difference.”
Staying calm and not “let everything get to my head” has helped Ward achieve success and remain competitive.
Rugby teammate C.J. McGee, a Collierville senior, said that Ward is a “very aggressive” rugby player.
“He is a great guy. I love to be around him. You can tell he is not a guy to go out drinking or do anything stupid. He makes sure he does the right thing. Like Matt, I am not going to go out and do anything stupid. Matt is one of my best friends.”
Despite the brute reputation, rugby is a gentleman’s sport said Ward.
“Even though on the field, some of the people are some of the meanest, off the field they are some of the nicest people and sincere people. Even though it is one of the roughest sports there is, everybody is kind of nice to each other. In scrums we talk to each other. We all get along with each other. Sometimes players from opposing teams will have lunch together after the game is over.”
Wards likes to do what he calls “acts of kindness. I try to show it every day, little things like opening the door for somebody.”
Active in his youth group and youth choir at Trinity Baptist Church in Cordova, he has gone on mission trips to Dallas, Boston and Guatemala. He has helped with Trinity’s Alpine Village during the Christmas season and Church Without Doors.
Craig McGee, who is pastor at Victory Life Assembly of God in Oakland between Somerville and Oakland, said that Ward leads by example.
“You can tell that Matt loves the Lord. He is a man of character, a man of integrity and he is always positive. He embodies the spirit of team and spirit of Christ.”
Ward said, “God gave me a gift of being who I am and being pretty good at what I do. I try to use that.”
The son of Randy and Barbara Ward, whom he calls his role models, Matt became a Christian at age 8.
“My parents are a very big influence on me. My Bible study teachers taught me a lot,” said Ward, who faces high expectations.
“Not only because I am a Christian but because I am a leader on the team, they expect more from me. I relate my faith to sports. It some times is hard to take a loss but I know that God’s plan is bigger than our own and He knows what’s in the future for us.”
His parents tell him to not give up and that “everything is going to work out in the end.” His sister, Ashley Ward, is a sophomore at Houston and is a member of the pom-pom team.
Bible study, reading devotionals and prayer helps his faith grow he said.
“Jesus is my Lord. I want to be everything to make Him happy and live my life in respect to Him. I want to be able to lead at least one person to be closer to God.”
Through his faith, he has learned forgiveness.
“I have always had a big thing on judgment, like you just can’t judge somebody by how they look. In middle school, I got made fun of by what I wore.
“I have found that I am very forgiving of other people. No matter what they have done to me, I can forgive them, the next day or within an hour. I like giving people another chance.
“Not everybody you are with is as devoted as you are. They have their own views and if it conflicts with yourself, you have got to stay strong.”

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