Senior Jonathan Ward claims 'future is bright' at running back position
Jonathan Ward has picked up 2,881 yards from scrimmage through his four-year career with the Central Michigan football team.
The 6-foot, 202-pound senior running back only has four guaranteed games remaining – possibly five or six if there's a bowl appearance or Mid-American Conference championship in store for the Chippewas.
Once the 2019 season is complete, Ward won't have any eligibility remaining. He will graduate and fall off the totem pole, leaving the starting running back duties to sophomore Kobe Lewis.
"I treat him like a little brother," Ward said. "He's the next running back up once I leave, so I'm just trying to leave him with all the knowledge I have learned from the game over the years to add that to his craft."
Lewis is a 6-foot, 194-pound running back that's carried the ball 144 times for 616 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019. He also has 17 receptions for 131 yards.
After going for just 37 yards on 10 carries as a freshman in 2018, Lewis has taken the next step in learning from Ward.
Lewis understands that he's next in line to assume the starting role, and he's taking pride in having a full year to learn from Ward while also splitting reps.
"He's like a big brother to me," Lewis said. "He lets me know what he sees on the field as I'm out there, and I do the same for him. We have talks on and off the field, and it's not just about football.
"He's more of a mentor, a leader."
When Ward was out for games against Akron and Miami (Florida) with a shoulder injury, Lewis stepped in. Against the Zips, he had 27 carries for 146 yards and three touchdowns.
Going beyond Lewis, the running back position features true freshmen Lew Nichols III and Josh Crawford.
Both players have the opportunity to take a redshirt, as Nichols has played four games this season while Crawford hasn't seen the field.
Ward said Lewis, Nichols and Crawford are planning to make Central Michigan a top spot for running backs across the country to attend school and play football.
"The future is bright for the running back position," Ward said.
The senior running back added the goal is to become "running back university," a statement that means the Chippewas are a team which attracts that specific position group.
"Letting people know that if you come here to play running back, you have to be something different, have to be special," Ward said. "I want to leave that legacy so they can pass it down."
Nichols, a 5-foot-10, 220-pound athlete, has carried the ball 19 times for 89 yards in four games this season.
Even though first-year coach Jim McElwain hasn't officially benched him for the remaining games this season, it's unlikely he burns a redshirt this late in the season after playing in the first four games.
Nichols came to Central Michigan as a three-star prospect from Cass Technical in Detroit. He ran for 1,078 yards and 23 touchdowns on 84 carries as a senior in 2018.
"Lew is a balanced back," Ward said. "He's got a big body frame and can really get going downhill. He can deliver a hit as well as take one."
Crawford is a running back that hasn't been discussed to this point. The 5-foot-11, 198-pound back came from Montclair in New Jersey and was first team all-conference and all-county as a senior.
In high school, Crawford spent time as a running back and slot receiver, much like Ward has done for the Chippewas in McElwain's new offense this season.
"In his first year, he's shown glimpses of how good he can and will be," Ward said. "He's a very shifty back.
"It'll be a good switch up between those three in the upcoming years."
Ward has truly taken on the mentality of a team leader, and he wants to make sure everything and everyone runs smoothly once he's gone.
Even though the leadership role might not have been one Ward wanted to assume, he never once thought about running away from it.
"It's just a part of being the old guy on the team," Ward said. "Some roles you don't want to step into, but it's given to you. Being a leader on the team is just something I have to embrace and give it my best shot."