INDIANAPOLIS — Denzel Ward had a decision to make.
As a highly regarded NFL prospect who might slot among the top 10 picks of the 2018 NFL Draft, he had to make a choice of whether to play in the Cotton Bowl against USC on Dec. 29. He went back and forth, but ultimately chose to sit out and focus on improving his draft stock.
However, had the Buckeyes’ made the College Football Playoff rather than end up outside the top-four teams, he would have played.
When asked at the NFL combine Sunday whether he would have suited up in scarlet and gray for either the Sugar Bowl or the Rose Bowl, he had a simple answer: “Yes sir.”
Ward said he did not tell the coaches he would not be playing on the final day, but it was a late, difficult decision. He said he ultimately sat out the bowl game to “not risk injury.”
“It’s not that I didn’t want to play the game,” Ward said. “I wanted to play. It was hard. I’m glad I got the win, though.”
He said NFL teams have asked him about the decision, but does not believe teams have held the decision against him.
“They just want to hear my thoughts of why I did sit out the bowl game,” Ward said.
Though Ward did not play in the bowl game as a junior, he practiced the entire week. He said he practiced to help the younger corners, such as then-freshman Jeffrey Okudah who played the most snaps of his career against the Trojans.
Ward played three seasons and had a combined 67 tackles, 24 pass deflections and two interceptions. As a junior, he was named a first-team All-American. Ward has a chance to become the fourth Ohio State cornerback selected in the first round, following in the footsteps of Eli Apple, Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley.