Channing Ward

Former Aberdeen standout Channing Ward, the Journal’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2010, is back on the field with the XFL’s Battlehawks. He was with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers before an injury in 2018.

ARLINGTON, Texas It was unmistakable, the look of absolute joy on defensive lineman Channing Ward’s face in the visiting locker room at Globe Life Park on Sunday afternoon.

Ward, an Ole Miss product from Aberdeen, had three tackles, including one for loss, for the XFL’s St. Louis BattleHawks in a 15-9 season-opening win over the Dallas Renegades.

And there he was, beaming from ear-to-ear, savoring the euphoria of soaking up a victory alongside his teammates before they hopped on the bus and then a plane to return home.

“It feels good. I’m just glad to get back,” said Ward, the Daily Journal’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2010. “Been out two years and just trying to get the energy back.”

The former Rebel had every right to savor the moment, considering his three-year stint with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers ended in July of 2018 with a torn patellar tendon. Ward had shuttled between the Bucs’ practice squad and the active roster, appearing in six games between 2016 and 2017.

It’s been a long road back, so when St. Louis selected him in the 2020 XFL Draft last October, he relished the opportunity to return to the field.

“It’s been a great experience,” Ward said. “Being out that long, trying to get the groove back, get back to everything. To finally get that groove back, it felt good to just be out there running around.”

He calls his time in Oxford (2015-18) an experience he wouldn’t change for anything in the world. He’s now teammates with former Rebel quarterback Jordan Ta’amu again, the Battlehawks’ starting quarterback, and no one was happier than him to see Ta’amu throw for 209 yards and run for 77 more in St. Louis’ win over Dallas.

“It was good,” Ward said. “I’m here to support him. Everybody’s got his back. It’s hard to be a quarterback. Just trying to be there for him and push him.”

And now that he and his teammates have their first game and first win in the books, Ward admits anything and everything he’s experienced thus far in the XFL has been overwhelmingly positive.

“There’s a bunch of hungry guys trying to get to where they were. There’s just a bunch of hungry guys out there playing hard,” Ward said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys that want to win and are the real deal. Good games, good competition. It’s going to be a good league. You have to come out to play every night.”

Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.

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