Ward even graduated from high school in December 1999 and enrolled at FSU early to get acclimated to collegiate life. While Ward couldn't wait to make an impression, he quickly discovered he was not quite ready to jump in with both feet.
"I knew I could do it," Ward said.
"You know how it is at Florida State. It's about patience. It's about waiting your turn. It's about timing. I always felt I could do it. It's about coming in and learning the system and getting comfortable out there and knowing you can play."
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Ward certainly can play.
In fact, the redshirt junior enjoyed a breakout season in 2002 despite being slowed by a shoulder/neck injury and a switch from wide receiver. Ward, who started seven games at free safety, finished third among defensive backs in solo tackles, second in assists, third in total tackles and tied for the lead in forced fumbles.
Of course, he made a bigger splash on special teams, where he established a new single-season and career record with four blocked field goals. Despite being held out of contact drills during spring practice, Ward has carried his momentum into summer workouts.
Ward continues to show he's one of the team's top athletes, running a 4.42 (electronically timed) in Tuesday's 40-yard dash. Ward also said he turned in the team's best time in the agility shuttle (4.0 seconds) and registered a 41-inch vertical jump and 10 foot, 10-inch broad jump.
Ward's upbeat personality also is contagious.
"I am trying to take two steps -- and then some," Ward said.
"You come out and have a good year, they expect you to be better. I am trying to improve every day. This is where it starts, in the off-season. Workouts and on the field running. I am trying to be a leader and going out there and be the first in everything. Hopefully everyone will follow if they aren't leading."
Ward also his crossing his fingers he can remain injury-free.
"Last season I had that neck/shoulder problem with my nerves," Ward said.
"It got worse as the season kept going. I just kept playing. I feel like I've healed. I don't want to be hurt this year. I started off pretty good last year but then I got hurt. That slowed me down. The main thing with football, if you can dodge injury you will be alright."
Ward also believes the Seminoles' secondary will be better than alright this season due to talent and experience. Ward was one of only eight defensive players last season to record 50 or more tackles. He enjoyed one of his best games against Wake Forest, finishing with five solo tackles (career-high) on top of blocking his fourth field goal.
Ward even scoffs at the preseason magazines that praise the Seminoles' secondary, saying the unit must prove itself first.
"You know that stuff don't mean anything," Ward said.
"We all feel like we've had two years playing together and we know the system. It's all about us working together and playing hard. Last year we had busted assignments, guys getting beat. You are not going to be No. 1 in the nation if you continue to play like that. You are not going to be as good as coach (Mickey) Andrews wants you to be by messing up like that out there. We have to play better all-around. Better tackling. I think we can be better but it's all about getting out there and seeing what we can do."
Ward says the biggest difference should be continuity due to his unit's experience. The secondary returns all four starters from last season, not to mention six others who registered quality playing time. Senior Rufus Brown was the only player to start every regular-season game last season.
"That's what it amounts to -- I think we were all on the same page now," Ward said.
"Last season we were young and people were out there wanting to do their own thing. You can't do that if you want to win. It's a system. You can't have one guy out there trying to do his thing, filling in one gap when he should be in the other. Or one guy trying to sack the quarterback and he should be filling the gap. Or a safety trying to take a chance on covering somebody and getting beat. That's what has been going on the past two years. You can't have that if you want to win. That's basically what it amounts to -- getting everybody doing the same thing and doing what they are supposed to do.
"Everything should fall in place."
While Ward says the defense is weary of being compared unfavorably to past great FSU defensive units, he understands a precedent has been set. And he's the first to say this year's team must make its own mark. Opponents averaged 243.7 passing yards per game against the Seminoles and accounted for 20 passing touchdowns last season.
Maimi's Ken Dorsey torched FSU for a season-high 362 passing yards in the Hurricanes' 28-27 victory, rallying UM from a 27-14 fourth-quarter deficit.
""Everybody always talks about (past)," Ward said.
"You have to realize Florida fell off sooner or later. Miami fell off. It's all about rebuilding. I feel real good about this defense. Everybody is out here working. You can't really judge by what we do out there, but as long as we are all on the same page, we will be alright. We are not worried about the ol' Florida State. Everybody talks about that --even we talk about that. But people have to realize those days are over and we have to start from the beginning again. Miami is a step ahead of us again, so we have to get to where they are. We have to take that spot back."
Ward also wants to make his mark. He has found a home on defense and is finally comfortable in a leadership role. That hasn't always been the case since his arrival from Texas, but Ward says maturity has been the key.
"Coach Andrews has been trying to knock that (leadership) into my head," Ward said.
"Young dudes, you don't see what coach Andrews sees -- that's wisdom. I realize I have some say so, that I can now go out there and lead I remember Brian Allen and Roland Seymour talking about how quickly your time goes. Now I am here saying the same thing. It's the same thing. Time flies and we need to make the most of our opportunities."