The man in charge of repairing the Bulldogs’ defense wakes up between 3:40 and 4 a.m. Except on Sundays, when he sometimes sleeps in till 5. Not just during fall camp or during football season, but every week of the year.
Lorenzo Ward is consistent about that.
Those early mornings are a time of quiet reflection and prayer – Ward watches his South Carolina church perform Sunday service online and “attends” Tuesday Bible study – as well as communication.
The man in charge of repairing the Bulldogs’ defense has a daily ritual of texting an inspirational thought or quote, one by one, to between 40 and 50 people. His college-aged son gets one. So do friends, former players and colleagues. So do all his recruits, some he hopes he’ll convince to play at Fresno State and one or two he knows are pretty unlikely.
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“Ain’t no almost every day,” Ward says. “I send out those messages every single day.”
If I can affect one person’s life by tweeting something positive, then it’s like my life has not been in vain.
Fresno State defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward
He’s consistent about that, too.
Fresno State’s defense has been consistent lately, though not in the positive sense. Last season, the Bulldogs ranked 101st in the country in total defense (yards allowed) and 118th in scoring defense (points allowed). The season before, they were 101st in total defense and 99th in scoring defense.
Which is why there’s new a defensive coordinator on Bulldog Lane, one with associate head coach in his job title.
No previous assistant during Tim DeRuyter’s five-year tenure has held the title of associate head coach.
No previous assistant during head coach Tim DeRuyter’s five-year tenure has held that distinction.
“I think when you have a guy who’s designated No. 2 in command, the players look at him differently,” says DeRuyter, who has been that guy at Texas A&M and Air Force.
With his syrupy Southern accent, Ward certainly sounds different from the other coaches, which is why it took a little time for the defensive backs – a couple of whom are playing for their fifth position coach in five seasons – to understand everything he was saying.
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“Now I do. We had Coach (Marcus) Woodson last year, so it was like a little intro to the South,” senior safety Stratton Brown says with a grin, referring to last year’s secondary coach from Mississippi.
Unlike the change of systems on offense, Fresno State is running the same 3-4 defense under Ward as it did the previous four seasons under Nick Toth, who remained on the staff to coach inside linebackers.
The buzzword, during the spring and into fall camp, has been “simplify.” By making the calls and reads less complex, the hope is the players will think less about their assignments and responsibilities and rely more on instinct.
“Coach Ward lets us be ourselves,” Brown says. “We get to bring the energy now. It’s just a lot more fun. We’re more relaxed. The defense is a lot simpler, so we just get to run around and have fun.”
Senior cornerback Jamal Ellis says the “positive energy” Ward carries with him to the field makes for an environment where players feel good about themselves and comfortable asking questions.
“He’s always smiling, always relaxed, and it’s good to play for a coach like that,” Ellis says. “It makes you feel like you’re playing for a father figure away from home.”
He just brings a very calming demeanor and a sense of confidence to our defense where they feel confidence themselves.
Fresno State football coach Tim DeRuyter, on Lorenzo Ward
Ward very much wants to be seen in that light. He very much wants to be more than a football coach to his players.
It’s the very reason he ended up at Fresno State and not at some higher-paying job like Mississippi State once his nine-year run at South Carolina ended last fall.
“When the Power Five schools are firing position coaches in the middle of the season, they’re not thinking about those kids that you’ve told the parents you’re going to be their mentor for the next three, four, five years,” Ward told me in January.
“Now it’s become a money game, just like the NFL. I don’t care to be in that situation anymore. I want it to be about the kids.”
Part of that commitment involves Ward’s daily ritual of spreading inspirational and encouraging messages. Recent entries include, “Release negative thoughts and refocus back to the present when you get distracted. Speak what you seek. Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”
Some of the messages come from the thoughts of Ward’s pastor back in South Carolina. Some come from him.
“Putting out a word of encouragement or a kind word that could affect somebody because they read it is something we all can do,” he says.
Ward tweets each entry, early every morning, and doesn’t use Twitter for anything else. But first, he goes through the painstaking process of cutting and pasting the message for each of the four dozen people on his personal list.
Why not save time and just send a group text?
“I just think when you do a group deal, people don’t pay attention as much,” Ward says. “Since I’ve been given this platform, why not use it to touch the people that play for me in a spiritual and motivational way?
“And I do it every day.”
The man in charge of repairing the Bulldogs’ defense needs some of his own positive consistency to rub off.