Sunday, May 24, 2009

Countdown to the Countdown: #5 (Hines Ward)

Friday, May 29th marks 99 days until Georgia and Oklahoma State kick off their 2009 seasons in Stillwater. Leading up that date, we are counting down the Top 25 UGA football players of the past 25 seasons.

5. Hines Ward (1994-1997)
  • 3rd best single-season completion percentage in UGA history: 1995 (62%)
  • 2nd best career completion percentage in UGA history: 59%
  • Led team in receiving yards: 1996 and 1997
  • 4th most career pass receptions in UGA history: 144
  • 3rd most single-season yards receiving in UGA history: 1996 (900)
  • 2nd most receptions by a junior in UGA history: 1996 (52)
  • 2nd most receptions by a senior in UGA history: 1997 (55)
  • 2nd most career all-purpose yardage in UGA history: 3,870 (1,063 rushing; 1,965 receiving, 842 return)
  • 7th most career kickoff return yardage in UGA history: 740
  • 5 catches for 184 yards vs Mississippi State in 1996 (36.8 yards per catch, 7th best single game YPC in SEC history)
  • 31 for 59 for 413 yards passing in 1995 Peach Bowl, all records for bowl games in UGA history (completions, attempts, yardage)
  • All-SEC: 1996 (AP 2nd team, Coaches' 2nd team); 1997 (AP 2nd team, Coaches' 1st team)

There are few players in the history of our beloved program, that UGA fans are more proud of than Hines Ward. His story is amazing. After being born to an African-American father and Korean mother, he became a high school All-American and blue chip recruit from Forest Park High School south of Atlanta.

While he was recruited as a quarterback, as a freshman he was forced into action as a tailback after Terrell Davis suffered an early season injury. The highlight of that season was his 137 yards rushing at Alabama.

As a sophomore, he began the season as a tailback again, but was moved to quarterback after another injury, this time to Mike Bobo. After struggling through his first few games, being benched, and subsequently booed off the field by the UGA faithful, he came back at the end of the season, with his famous Peach Bowl performance.

Ward's career at UGA really took off when Jim Donnan was hired in 1996. Donnan and Ward became very close, and Ward was immediately moved him to wide receiver permanently when Donnan came on board. He would line up just about everywhere on the field as a receiver during those next 2 seasons, and ultimately became the unquestioned leader of the program on and off the field.

While a number of NFL teams became enamored with his versatility, it is believed that he dropped in the Draft after it was discovered that he had no ACL in his left knee (the result of an accident as a young child.) The Pittsburgh Steelers grabbed him late on the 1st day of the 1998 NFL Draft, a decision which contributed in large part to a change in course of an entire NFL franchise. Four Pro Bowls and 2 Super Bowl titles later (one of which he was named MVP), Ward is headed for Canton when his career ends. He will have likely played his entire career with the same NFL team, which is unheard of in the current era of free agency. He holds every career receiving record in the storied history of the Pittsburgh Steeler franchise, and is considered by many to be the best blocking receiver in football history.

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