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Transfer QB Cameron Ward picks WSU over Ole Miss

The Cougs get a massive boost in the wake of Jayden de Laura’s exit.

PULLMAN, WA - OCTOBER 23: Washington State mascot Butch T Cougar bows down to the Crimson Gals Jack Ellis/CougCenter

The Washington State Cougars aren’t playing in the College Football Playoff, but they maybe got the best news of the night of anyone other than the game winner when four-star transfer quarterback Cameron Ward announced just before kickoff that he had committed to play football in Pullman next season.

Ward — the fourth-highest rated quarterback in 247Sports’ transfer rankings — chose WSU over an offer from Ole Miss and Lane Kiffin, making this a massive recruiting win for Jake Dickert. Ward also was considering Houston, Prairie View A&M, and a return to Incarnate Word.

Ward has four years to play three for WSU, but he’s not expected to use that redshirt year; instead, he’s expected to start immediately, as his commitment comes on the heels of the departure of incumbent starter Jayden de Laura, who announced on Friday that he was transferring after two seasons in Pullman.

Ward mentioned his relationship with Morris as one of the deciding factors in picking WSU.

The change from de Laura to Ward is something that would have been unthinkable just two weeks ago, as de Laura was coming off an Apple Cup victory and preparing for the Sun Bowl after leading WSU to seven wins this fall. But things move incredibly fast in this new world of transfers, and it’s possible that WSU has accomplished something else that would have seemed unthinkable back then: Actually upgrading from de Laura.

De Laura’s improvement as the season went along was noteworthy enough that it made sense for Dickert to explicitly say at his introductory press conference that they’d be building the offense around the young quarterback, who was named the conference’s offensive freshman of the year after this season.

But that was before Eric Morris — the head coach at Incarnate Word — was announced as WSU’s new offensive coordinator. And when Morris’ own award-winning QB, Ward, said shortly thereafter that he would enter the transfer portal, it wasn’t hard to start to connect the potential dots to Pullman. Was this always the plan? That seems hard to say. Ward didn’t announce an offer from WSU until shortly after the end of the Sun Bowl, in which de Laura sat out the second half with an undisclosed injury, and it took another 11 days for Ward to make his announcement.

Regardless of the behind-the-scenes machinations, Ward will now be trying to take his place among the great quarterbacks in WSU’s storied history of passers.

Ward’s ascension from zero FBS offers to one of the most sought-after transfer QBs in the country after just two seasons at an FCS school is unprecedented. As a “Covid Freshman” this past season, Ward threw for 4,648 yards and 47 touchdowns — against just 10 interceptions — in 13 games, as UIW advanced to the second round of the FCS playoffs. He completed 65 percent of his 590 passes for an average of 7.9 yards per attempt.

When people think of FCS quarterbacks, they think of guys who are on the small side, or whose arms are marginal but accurate, or whose arms are big and inaccurate, or whatever; Ward, though, is the total package — good size, excellent arm strength, lightning quick release, and pinpoint accuracy.

When trying to make sense of how a guy like this could get overlooked, it’s clear that Ward’s body underwent a physical transformation — 247Sports listed him at 6-foot-1.5 and 231 pounds as a senior, but he’s now listed at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds by UIW — however, that’s not the whole story of how Ward ended up in Division I’s second tier, according to Morris.

“First of all, he was just a great thrower of the football, I mean just it came out of his hand really pure, really strong arm,” Morris said back in November. “He played in the triple option offense and so he didn’t have the film that kind of showed like some of these other kids do, so that hurt his recruiting.”

As FCS coaches often do, Morris had to get creative.

“And then what we did is we watched him play other sports we went and watched him play basketball — he’s an all-time leading scorer in in West Columbia (High School) history. He saw the floor really well, he had a great presence about himself, he was a great leader out there, so i think kind of when we put all those things together, we thought he had tools to be a superstar,” Morris said.

“The one thing we didn’t see is we never got to see him process information like he has to do in our offense on a football field — we had to kind of really recruit him and dig into him a little bit to see if we thought that would translate. The basketball deal helped us a lot and so that’s been one thing.”

The other thing is Ward’s mental approach to the game.

“He’s up here (studying film) all the time, you tell him to play one time he remembers it, he’s incredible at processing information in real time on the field,” Morris said. “So, you know, it’s kind of the perfect storm, but we definitely saw the raw talent evaluating him at camp.”

Now, Ward will get a chance to show everyone just how wrong they were.

Even with Ward’s commitment, the Cougars very likely are still looking for another quarterback. With the transfers of de Laura and Cammon Cooper (who committed to Hawaii today), that leaves Xavier Ward as the only scholarship quarterback — although it’s expected that Victor Gabalis is being put on scholarship this semester. Here’s to guessing WSU is still looking for a high schooler to add to the class.