By Brandon Speck/Monroe Journal
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Channing Ward ignited a fan base 750 miles away from him Thursday night.
The four-star Aberdeen defensive end, rated by Rivals as the state’s top recruit, committed to Ole Miss on Thursday night live on ESPN during the 2012 Under Armour All-America Game at Tropicana Field. The Monroe Journal first reported Ward’s decision earlier Thursday.
Ward went into the week with a list of finalists that included the Rebels, Mississippi State, Auburn, Alabama and LSU. He had narrowed it to Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State by Wednesday and confirmed his verbal commitment in the second quarter to ESPN’s Dari Nowkhah with friends, coaches and family looking on.
“I feel good now. You’ve seen my Twitter page,” he laughed. “Everybody was telling me to go there and go there. I wonder what’s on there now, probably a bunch of mad fans but I had to do what’s best for me.”
In between the announcement, Ward had a huge day in Team Blur’s 49-16 win against Team Highlight. He finished with seven tackles, two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss.
His night included a pair of highlight hits that drew second “oohs” and “ahs” on the replays and several quarterback pressures.
Ward was trending on Twitter by halftime.
“When you’ve got size and speed and you’re young, it helps at the next level,” said Blur and former New York Jets coach Herm Edwards. “Those are a couple traits you have to have and he has that.”
In his company for the live announcement was Ward’s brother Taurus, a redshirt junior at Ole Miss when the 2012 season begins.
Ward said after the game that he’d pretty much had his mind made up for some time but the coaching change halted a final decision.
He’ll now get to play two Southeastern Conference football seasons with his brother, who transferred there from Itawamba after the 2009 season.
“I just felt like it was the best fit,” he said. “It was just the coaching change made things harder but I just stuck with it.”
Ward had offers from 20-plus schools, Mississippi State the favorite among most fans for its proximity to Aberdeen.
South Panola senior Issac Gross, an Ole Miss verbal, said he and Ward want to be a part of the rebuilding at Ole Miss, which went 2-10, 0-8 in the SEC last season.
“It’s a rebuilding year. That’s where I want to be,” Gross said. “They’ve got good players there. They just need an extra hand.”