After a weekend of patiently waiting for his opportunity in the NFL, 2016 Bishop McNamara graduate Jonathan Ward now knows where his professional career will begin.
Ward went undrafted in this weekend’s NFL draft, but the running back signed as an undrafted free agent with the Arizona Cardinals not long after the draft ended Saturday evening.
“I’m just grateful for the opportunity,” Ward said.
After what he called a roller coaster of a day, waiting out the final four rounds of the draft Saturday, Ward now will join a revamped backfield in Arizona. After acquiring Kenyan Drake from the Miami Dolphins in a rare in-season trade last year, the Cardinals traded incumbent starter David Johnson to Houston as part of a package for wide receiver Deandre Hopkins.
Aside from Drake, Chase Edmonds and D.J. Foster are the only other veterans in the Arizona backfield. The Cardinals selected running back Eno Benjamin in the seventh round of the draft Saturday.
The Cardinals figure to see quite an offensive jump in 2020, the second season with head coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2019 draft. Last season, the Cardinals ranked 10th in the NFL with 1,990 rushing yards.
Rich Zinanni, Ward’s coach at Bishop McNamara, likes the situation that one of his most talented players in his 45 years of coaching is headed to Arizona. After the COVID-19 outbreak canceled Ward’s pro day at Central Michigan University, Zinanni thinks Ward flew under the radar and will be a pleasant surprise.
“I think it’s great; I think he’s going to a great place,” Zinanni said. “He got wrapped up with this coronavirus where he didn’t get a pro day. I think it’s a mistake he wasn’t invited to the combine after he played in the [NFL Players Association] Collegiate Bowl.”
Ward starred as a running back at Central Michigan, where he posted two seasons with at least 1,000 rushing yards, including a career-high 1,108 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, resulting in a third-team Mid-American All-Conference selection. He finished his college career with 2,539 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns, with another 909 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 98 career receptions. He was a two-time all-conference selection.
Before that, Ward broke every rushing record at Bishop McNamara and led the Irish to a 2015 IHSA Class 3A State Championship.
Should he make it through camp and make the Cardinals’ final roster, he would be the first area player to play in an NFL regular season game since Dwight native Clay Harbor, who enjoyed an eight-year NFL career that began in 2010, and the first McNamara graduate to play in the league since Tyjuan Hagler, whose career spanned from 2005-10.
Ward wasn’t the only NFL hopeful with local connections that inked an undrafted free agent deal Saturday. Per a report from NBC Sports Chicago’s JJ Stankevitz, the San Fransisco 49ers signed quarterback Broc Rutter, the son of former Bishop McNamara athletic director and girls basketball coach John Rutter.
Rutter was the winner of the 2019 Gagliardi Trophy, given to the most outstanding player in NCAA Division III, after an electric senior season at North Central College in Naperville in which he threw for 4,591 yards and 56 touchdowns, both second in the nation.