DENVER — T.J. Ward began playing tackle football at age 8, weighing 60 pounds.
He learned toughness and work ethic from his father Terrell. He ran through circuit training with his brother Terron and cousin Maurice Jones-Drew as a kid. His motivation to succeed intensified in high school following the murder of his good friend Terrance Kelly, whose story was recently featured on Discovery ID.
Ward walked on at Oregon, where he's pictured above, and turned into a college star and eventual NFL Pro Bowler and Super Bowl 50 champion with the Broncos. He's seen a lot. And been through even more.
Ward is now using his experience to work as an adviser and representation for college hopefuls leading up to the NFL draft. Two of the players under Ward's wings bring connections to Colorado — one literally, one figuratively — where Ward starred for the Broncos. Colorado State cornerback Marshaun Cameron aims to show his size doesn't measure his heart and passion for football. And former UNLV star Charles Williams wonders if he could fit with the Broncos with a running style that features shades of Javonte Williams.
Cameron provides a fascinating back story. After suffering the hardest hit of his life, he turned to football.
It's usually the other way around. A nationally ranked skateboarder as a teenager, Cameron witnessed a video that inadvertently led him to the gridiron.
"Dang, I didn’t know you had that story. Yeah, I fell face first off a roof," Cameron told Denver7 with a laugh. "I was watching Nyjah Houston as a kid and Nyjah was like 12 and I was like 11. I saw him do a trick. I thought, 'I can do that.' I went to go ollie off the house and my back wheels got caught on the gutter and I fell face first. I had a big ol' gash (above the right eye) and had 27 stitches. I got hit pretty hard as a receiver once in high school. But it was nothing like that skateboarding hit."
Cameron, a prep standout at Cathedral High School in Southern California, began his college career at Northern Colorado. He transferred to CSU and became an impact starter in 2020.
"I made the decision to move to a bigger level to show my talent. I know I was undersized and I know it’s hard for undersized guys to get into the league, and I had to get on a bigger stage to get noticed," said Cameron, listed at 5-foot-9, 190 pounds. "I go there and I was undersized and underweight. I had a decent fall camp. And when it got to the games, and a couple of people struggled, I got my opportunity and I made plays. (In the opener vs.) Fresno State I made a big play and after that, I never left the field. I had family there. I always feel like when I see them in stands it gives me courage to play better."
Cameron carved his name into CSU's rivalry game, posting 10 tackles and an interception for a score against Wyoming.
"He’s a tremendous guy, a guy who transferred in. A really hard-working guy. A guy who had a couple of big moments. He had that pick-six against Wyoming," said CSU tight end Trey McBride, a projected first to early second-round draft choice. "He's a hard worker and someone I hope the best for."
Cameron does not fear contact and developed stamina from skateboarding.
"Marshaun is an awesome tackler. He can play outside or the slot. He's underrated," Ward said. "He reminds me of (former Broncos star) Chris (Harris) a lot. He's very scrappy and highly competitive."
Cameron has been training in California with Ward, improving his craft. He will participate in CSU's Pro Day on March 30.
"I love the physicality of football. I feel like football is a chance — I hold in a lot of emotions, stuff that comes from being from LA — where I can let it all out on the field. I love everything about the game," Cameron said. "The adversity, the locker room, it’s just different, I have been down the work road a couple of times, and I cannot see myself not playing football."
Willams brings a similar passion for the game. He returned to UNLV for his sixth season because of unfinished business. The Chuck Wagon churned out 1,261 yards and 15 touchdowns, becoming the Rebels' all-time leading rusher. At 5-foot-9, 200 pounds, he is a bowling ball of destruction. He would certainly welcome a chance with Denver.
"The way Javonte (Williams) runs is very powerful but very nimble and he can make defenders miss. I like how they run the ball in Denver. Honestly, I am open to any team willing to give me an opportunity," Williams said. "I thought I should go back to school last year. I couldn't leave in 2020 and say that was the end of my journey at UNLV. I went back with intentions to make the program better and with the new coaching staff. We did not get to a bowl game, but we had a lot of great moments."
Williams posted 266 yards on the ground at Hawaii, one of four games where he eclipsed 130. He turned to Ward after a recommendation.
"I felt like he had the experience, and he knew the process we were going through," said Williams, UNLV's first academic All-American. "Why not work with someone who can get me where I want to be, but also knows what I am going through,"
Ward sees real potential with Williams. He is physical and smart.
"Charles has great vision and ability to get through creases that a normal back can't find or even attempt to get through," Ward said. "And he has the speed at the second level to make a long run a scoring run."
For Williams, his motivation comes easily — his 1-year-old daughter Kamiyah. He is proud of his degree but wants to see where the sport can take him.
"I love football. I had it taken away in 2017 with an ankle injury. I understood how my life was shaped around the game. It's something I can't live without," Williams said. "It's kind of like a drug to me. I have been doing this since I was little and I will do anything to keep playing this game."