by Martin McConnell
Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward recently returned to his old stomping grounds at Nordonia High School for a youth football camp as part of his “Make Them Know Your Name” heart health charity foundation.
Ward has held football camps with Nordonia since the Browns drafted him fourth overall in 2018. This May marked his first camp since 2019 due to pandemic restrictions.
“COVID kinda stopped us from getting it done last year,” Ward said. “I was definitely excited about getting it done this year. It was a great turnout, I’m glad everyone was able to make it out.”
The camp doubled as Ward’s return to Nordonia after signing a record-breaking $100.5 million contract extension with the Cleveland Browns, which will keep him in Northeast Ohio through 2027. Ward spent the evening interacting with campers, doing impromptu autograph signings, and helping other coaches run the camp drills.
“These are drills and skills that I myself went through,” Ward said. “I just want, really, for guys to come out here, have fun, and enjoy themselves a little.”
Camp registration was free, and organizers expected over 300 attendees between the fifth and eighth grade. The campers naturally gravitated to Ward’s magnetic personality. He stopped to have full conversations with each attendee during autograph signings, before gently nudging them back towards the other coaches and drills.
“That’s what’s cool about Denzel,” said Nordonia head football coach Jeff Fox. “He’s not interested in all the bigger hype. … He wants it to be a local thing.”
The camp was organized by Ward, his mother, and his longtime friend and trainer Mark Harris. Harris spent most of the camp organizing individual competition drills and cheering campers on using the Nordonia stadium P.A. system.
“We’re going to take these young men, and women if we have them,” Harris told the parents of campers. “And put them through a real football experience.”
During his time at Nordonia High School, Ward became a highly-touted recruit on the football field and as a track athlete. 247 Sports ranked him as a four-star recruit coming out of high school, rating him as the tenth-best player in Ohio in 2015.
“What you see of Denzel today is genuine. He is a great kid [from] a great family,” Fox said. “He is naturally shy and quiet in social settings, but is as competitive as I’ve seen when the time is right.”
The camp also doubled as a heart health seminar for the campers, complete with demonstrations from University Hospitals and the Make Them Know Your Name foundation. Ward’s father, Paul, passed away from sudden cardiac arrest in 2016, and Ward’s charity foundation aims to teach people nationwide about preventing heart-related deaths.
“That is the focus of the Make Them Know Your Name heart health foundation, to bring awareness to heart health in general,” said Denzel’s mother, Nicole Ward. “But even more focus on providing the resources, the training, the education, and instilling the confidence in people to be able to take action when faced with emergency situations such as sudden cardiac arrest.”
For the Ward family, the sense of community at Nordonia is important to them. The choice for Ward to hold his youth camps at his old high school seemed to be an easy one.
“I just enjoy giving back to the community,” Denzel Ward said. “This is where I’m from, I grew up right down the street from here, and this is the high school field that I played on. I just want the kids to come out, have a good time, and enjoy themselves.” ∞