No one need worry about Nixa safety Spencer Ward looking past his senior season in anticipation of a college career that could be played out at the NCAA D-I level.
Ward is in no hurry to go on to play college ball. As prep practices across the state officially kicked off Monday, he’s savoring every moment of his final go-around as an Eagle.
Even though Ward has been a starter on Nixa’s defense since his sophomore season and saw some playing time as a freshman, it seemingly has been a whirlwind.
“It's going by a little too fast for my liking,” Ward said. “But I'm enjoying it and I love this group. I'm glad I'm with them. I love high school football. I've never been in a better atmosphere than a high school football game.
"I'm going to try to be the epitome of a Nixa Eagle this season, that's my goal,” he added.
Ward will likely join exclusive company at Nixa by reaching 200 career tackles. He had 17 tackles as a sophomore and 114 solo stops as a junior. Along the way, he’s collected three interceptions.
On the offensive side, he rushed for a team-high 651 yards on 113 carries as a sophomore and carried the ball 17 times for 147 yards while also catching nine passes for 90 yards as a junior.
Looking back, Ward credits his older brother, Steven, for preparing him to be ready for varsity action at an early age. Steven was a linebacker for the Eagles and a 2021 Nixa grad.
“Growing up with my older brother, I was friends with a lot of his friends,” Spencer said. “Also, my parents raised me really well. I'm thankful for them.”
The defensive huddle will be without question Ward’s to lead. He’s the veteran of the group.
“I'm the team captain. I'm going to lead this team as far as we can (go),” Ward said. “I'm the quarterback back (on defense) this year. I tried to lead last year, but this year I'm more comfortable in that role. I know most everything, so I'm telling everyone what to do.”
Ward warns opponents and fans not to sleep on Nixa’s defense. The Eagles return only three starters on that side of the ball, with linebacker Broden Mabe and defensive end Jayden Antonelli being the other returnees. But Ward feels they can better last season’s defensive average of 19 points a game.
“I think our defense is going to be better,” he said. “We work well together and have guys who want to give the effort to get better. We're looking great.”
Mabe will drop back to Nixa’s secondary and form a dynamite duo with Ward.
“We’re going to be the ‘Legion Of Boom,’” Ward said of he and Mabe.
Ward said some new names Nixa fans will get to know on defense will be cornerback Parker Mann and linebackers Anthony Ramey and Eli Frazier.
Ward added he’s also looking forward to filling a role as a situational runner on offense.
“Our O-line is going to be nasty this year, giving (running back Dylan Rebura) and me holes to run through,” he said. “It’s going to be dirty.”
During fourth-year Nixa coach John Perry’s tenure here, he has been so enthralled with Ward and his classmates that he’s repeatedly predicted the Eagles would win a state championship by the time they are seniors.
“He's been saying that since he came here and we were in the eighth grade and were in our auditorium," Ward said. “I'm trying to make it happen.”
Ward received his share of accolades last season. He was a unanimous All-COC First-Team selection and a Class 6 First-Team All-State choice. He was one of only four juniors to make First-Team All-State on defense.
No matter, Ward remains as motivated as ever. In addition to his dreams of a state championship, he’s hoping to show he’s a D-I prospect. He’s received more than a handful of college offers, but thus far second-year D-I Lindenwood is the only D-I program to make him an offer.
“I always think I'm the underdog, that's how I'm going to think,” Ward said. “I want to prove to more people and to myself that I can play at a high level.
“I've never been this mentally strong,” he added. “I’ve been through a couple injuries and setbacks and have come back stronger. It's made me who I am.”