ATHENS — When it comes to preparing yourself for the NFL, there’s no better place to learn the trade than at Georgia.
At least that’s the opinion of Hines Ward, a 14-year NFL veteran, former Super Bowl MVP and UGA grad. Ward was at the UGA Golf Course on Monday to participate in the Celebrity Pro-Am for the Stadion Classic at UGA Nationwide golf tournament.
It’s just one of several trips Ward has made to visit his alma mater since announcing his retirement from professional football in March.
“I always love coming back to Athens and I always want to help the University of Georgia any way I can,” said Ward, who was playing in a group with Mike Bobo and some UGA boosters. “It’s great to play golf here, especially after Bubba [Watson] won The Masters. It’s great to be able to play with guys you played with like Mike Bobo, and it’s always nice see old faces and old coaches and alumni. We’re all Bulldog family.”
Ward, who lives in Sandy Springs, spent a week in Athens this past month shadowing his old teammate Bobo during the Bulldogs’ spring practices. He wanted to see if coaching was something he might like to get into. Ward’s presence created quite a stir among the Bulldog Nation wondering if he was looking to join the staff.
But Ward said Monday he wasn’t looking to unseat any members of the current staff. He just wanted to get an idea of what the college job was like on a daily basis.
“It’s something I’m definitely thinking about,” Ward said of coaching. “I don’t know if I’d be able to make the time commitment, not right now anyway. But it’s definitely something I’d like to do and if was going to do it I’d want to do it at the University of Georgia.”
Ward said he’s recently had some detailed talks with several television networks about a career in broadcasting, which appears to be his most likely next step.
“I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do yet,” he said. “I’ve only been out of football a few months, so there’s plenty of time to figure it out. But I have a lot of options and that’s good.”
Ward credited UGA for setting him up for success. A star quarterback at Forest Park High, he chose Georgia over Nebraska and numerous other major offers, graduated in 3 1/2 years and set several UGA records, including becoming the rushing, passing and receiving for more than 1,000 yards each.
Ward said he saw that the Bulldogs had seven players selected in the NFL draft this past weekend. That’s 64 in the Mark Richt era, which actually raises Ward’s ire.
“It drives me crazy when I see some of the best players in Georgia leave the state to go to Alabama or some other place,” Ward said. “There’s just no need in it. I remember when I was in school and Jacquez Green and some other guys went to Florida and won a bunch of games down there. Georgia has been so close for so long and is going to win a championship soon if these guys just stay at home like I did.”
Ward said Georgia has a strong reputation in pro-football circles for producing NFL ready players. The Bulldogs’ 65 draft selections under Richt are the most of any other SEC program over that time period (2001-12).
“The list goes on and on of great players from Georgia who are still producing on a high level,” Ward said. “And there are a lot of up-and-coming players like A.J. Green and [Matthew] Stafford that are the future in our league. So there’s no question Georgia produces great pro football players helps prepare them to be able to go out there and do things on the next level.”
Helping communicate that message is one of the main reasons Ward said he would consider coaching with the Bulldogs. He has learned that NCAA rules prevent him being able to help them out on his own.
“I don’t really know the ins and outs of NCAA rules, but I know just being on the practice field I was a magnet for families and kids who were out there and wanted to come up and talk to me about it,” Ward said. “But I can’t really talk with them or have a conversation with them because of the rules. I’m a living example of what they want. I grew up in a single-parent home with my mom with working three jobs, came to school here and had a productive career, graduated in 3 1/2 years and played in the NFL for 14 years for one team. But I can’t talk to them because of the rules. That’s crazy.”
UGA IN NFL DRAFT
2002—8—DE Charles Grant goes in 1st round with 25th pick
2003—7—DL Johnathan Sullivan and OL George Foster each go in 1st
2004—4—TE Ben Watson selected with last pick of 1st round
2005—6—FS Thomas Davis (14) and DE David Pollack (17) go in 1st
2006—7—CB Tim Jennings is first Bulldog selected in 2nd round
2007—5—Defensive ends Quentin Moses and Charles Johnson go in 3rd
2008—4—DE Marcus Howard drafted in 5th round
2009—6—QB Matthew Stafford first overall; TB Knowshon Moreno goes 12th
2010—5—LB Rennie Curran is first Bulldog selected in 3rd round
2011—6—WR A.J. Green is the No. 4 overall pick
2012—7—OL Cordy Glenn is selected early in the second round
* Includes Paul Oliver, a supplemental draftee in 2007