Ward brings physical style, consistency to Harlan backfield


Chris Jones

Harlan running back Jayden Ward turned the corner in action last season against Leslie County/ Ward led the Dragons with 698 yards rushing in 2021.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

If not for a worldwide pandemic that gave high school athletes around the state the opportunity for an extra year of eligibility, Harlan running back/linebacker Jayden Ward knows his career would be over at this point.

Jayden Ward

Instead, Ward was sweating through a July practice session when a visitor asked how he felt going into his senior season with the Green Dragons.
“It’s sad it’s close to the end, but I’m excited,” he said. “I want to do something special my last year. I think we could win eight or nine games if everyone stays healthy and stays focused.”
While he hasn’t put up the eye-popping numbers that some Harlan running backs of the past posted, Ward has impressed the coaching staff with his consistency.
Ward rushed for a team-high 698 yards last season and tied quarterback Cade Middleton for the team lead in touchdowns with six. He may have made a run at 1,000 yards if not for an ankle injury that sidelined him for one game and parts of several others.
“I had that ankle injury last year and I missed one full game and parts of two or three others, so that may have cost me that season,” Ward said. “I think all the time what I could have done without the injury. I feel confident I can do more than that this year with the help of the line.”
Ward looks forward to working with much the same line as a year ago with Matthew Nunez returning at center, Trenton Childers and Peyton Thompson back at the guards and Hunter Clem returning at left tackle. Noah Kirby and Malachi Rodriguez were both part-time starters.
“Our entire offensive line is returning, so I feel real good about that,” Ward said.
“Jayden won’t wow you in a 40, but when he breaks one in a game no one ever catches him,” Harlan coach Eric Perry said. “I guess you could say he has game speed. He is also a tough kid who will get you those extra yards. This is his fourth year with us and his maturity kind of shows. He and Dylan (Middleton) both have been around awhile. His leadership will be big for us.”
Perry said the Dragons’ balance on offense could also limit Ward’s opportunities to put up huge numbers, but he knows he can count on him for a big senior season.
“We like for different people to carry the ball. We’re not the type of offense where you will get 25 carries a game,” Perry said. “I think he averaged about seven yards a carry last year, so he could get it. Darius (Akal) has looked real good in the backfield and Dylan (Middleton) can go back there. We think our quarterbacks (Donovan Montanaro and Nate Montanaro) will carry it a lot also. We have some designed runs for them.”
When the Dragons open their season Aug. 19 at home against Berea, the odds are good that Ward will play a big role with his physical style.
“Running north and south is the best way to do it,” he said. “I will take four or five yards a play any time.”
Ward moved from the defensive backfield to outside linebacker midway through last season and expects to be back there this season where his physical style can be more effective.
“Coach Perry brought his brother (former Garrard County coach Jerry Perry) in (to coach defense) and that is going well,” Ward said.
“We were having some trouble getting lined up and Jayden is one of those who knows where everyone should be,” Perry said. “He helped us in several ways at linebacker. It’s been a good move for us.”
Perry also knows he can count on Ward to bring a team-first attitude every day, both in practice and games.
“What I love about Jayden is he can carry it twice or carry it 20 times and he’s the same. He plays hard and trains hard and just wants to win,” he said. “I don’t know if he has ever missed a day of practice. We are expecting big things out of him as far as leadership and his play.”