As Nate Ward describes the denial, frustration and, finally, acceptance that the head trauma he suffered in a Poquoson High School football game in September ended his playing career, he sounds like someone lamenting the loss of a loved one.
And in a large sense he is. Without football, Ward is missing a piece of his identity and one of the things he's loved the most - and longest.
He recovered a fumble on his first football play as a 6 year old with the Poquoson Mighty Mites, wearing a white T-shirt with his name and number stenciled on it with a Sharpie because the team jersey hadn't arrived.
His final football play was a 14-yard touchdown run in Poquoson's 56-0 win over Jamestown on Sept. 17, minutes after his head slammed into the turf on a tackle at the end of a long run.
Ward experienced no cognitive impairment and says academics are coming to him more easily every day. The only cloud has been dealing with that lost sense of identity football gave him.
"I didn't think about it much at first, and when they played York (on Sept. 24) I was still in denial," Ward said. "It wasn't until the Warhill game (Oct. 8) that I felt I couldn't help the team anymore.
"I hadn't read the (Sept. 19 Daily Press) newspaper article (which noted that he would likely never play again) until a few weeks later. That made it really sink in.
Ward is learning that while he'll always love football, it's not all that he is.
"I've learned that football isn't everything," Ward said. "There's a whole other part of me.
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