Defensive End Jihad Ward
Jihad Ward didn't travel to Chicago for the 2016 NFL Draft.
Instead, he stayed on campus, finishing up classes at the University of Illinois, and was at his defensive line coach Mike Phair's house when he found out he had been selected by the Oakland Raiders in the second round (No. 44 overall).
"We were just watching the Draft and when I finally got my phone call, it was just a blessing," Ward told Bruce Murray and Phil Savage on SiriusXM NFL Radio. "[My heart] kept beating and beating and beating fast, and then, next thing you know, I had Oakland on the caller ID. The whole surrounding, their heart dropped. They didn't know what to expect, so it got quiet at the time, and once I had a little, one tear come out of my eye, it was just, yeah, this is it. This is the one. It was a blessing."
Ward's journey to the NFL was a winding one. After playing junior college football at the Glove Institute of Technology in New York, the Philadelphia native finished up his final two seasons as a Fighting Illini, earning All-Big Ten honorable mention honors as a senior.
"If you really want something, you can get it," Ward said. "I got the goal that I wanted, making it to the NFL. Now I'm on another mission to reach [another] goal. I want to win Super Bowl championships. I want to be the best [defensive] lineman out there. There's always a goal that I'm motivated to get."
Ward will now be wearing Silver and Black as he goes forward with his goals, and he's looking forward to getting to work and learning from a talented group of defensive linemen, highlighted by Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.
"They hit me up," Ward told Murray and Savage. "They called my phone. I had a message from Khalil Mack. Those guys have a lot of experience, and I can't wait to hit the field with them. That motivates me because they're out there having the same mindset as me, that means winning games, so it's a blessing for me to be on the same field as Khalil Mack and Irvin. It's just great. It's a great feeling."
Ward is currently finishing his last week at Illinois, but once finals are in the rearview mirror, his focus will shift entirely to his new job as a professional football player.
"I'm finishing up finals right now, and once I'm done with that, I'm worried about football," Ward explained. "That's done. School is over. I'm worried about football. I love this game and in the future I just want to be the best [defensive] lineman in the NFL."
Ward and the rest of the Raiders' 2016 Draft Class arrive at the team's Alameda, Calif., facility Monday, and then hit the field for Rookie Minicamp beginning Friday, May 13.