Tennessee State coach Rod Reed is confident he’ll have a stable of running backs to turn to next year.
He simply won’t have his workhorse.
Trabis Ward will forgo his senior season and declare for the NFL Draft.
Ward, a fourth-year junior, rushed for 1,422 yards and 15 touchdowns last season and was second in the country with 309 carries.
“In the NFL running backs don’t last long,” Ward, 22, said. “I feel like I have done enough in college to show them I am durable and I can play on the next level so I don’t have to come back next year. The NFL counts up how many licks a running back takes. ... I’m very confident I’ll get drafted.”
A 5-foot-10, 200-pounder, Ward is arguably one of the best running backs in TSU history.
In three seasons, he compiled 2,582 rushing yards and 26 rushing touchdowns to rank fourth in both categories on the all-time charts. In October he carried the ball a school-record 43 times and finished with 267 yards and four touchdowns — both second-most in TSU history.
He was a 2012 first-team All-Ohio Valley Conference selection.
Ward did most of his damage during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He sat out 2010 because he was academically ineligible.
“He felt he had done pretty much all he could do in college,” Reed said. “It was kind of against my wishes a little bit. But Trabis is a big kid and I wish the best for him. He is a kid who is a very durable kid. He took a lot of hits, made some big runs for us. I think that anybody who is looking at him will see he runs well between the tackles, has good vision and he secures the football. I think he may have had one fumble this entire year.
“He is a kid that can touch the ball a lot of times and be a real productive back for anybody.”
Ward is back in his native Florida and will continue working out in Boca Raton up to the draft in April. He is training under the tutelage of Patrick Peterson Sr., whose son, Patrick, was a star cornerback at LSU and is in his second year with the Arizona Cardinals.
Ward said Reed tried to convince him to stay. But he had made up his mind in the summer before he became the first TSU running back since 2008 to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season.
He believes he brings versatility, noting his 21 receptions for 248 yards this year. He also is willing to play on special teams and return kicks and punts.
“It is not every day you can find a guy that can run it inside, that is big enough, who can catch,” Ward said. “I feel like I can play in the big leagues. I just want to give myself a chance to do something I wanted to do in my life. Going to school, it is fun being all around different type of people. But there comes a time when you feel like you want to do something for yourself. This is a decision I haven’t discussed with nobody else. This is a decision I made amongst myself.
“I just wanted to do something once-in-a-lifetime and make me happy.”