Westmoreland County boys athlete of the year: GCC’s Nate Ward showed will to win in 4 sports

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Saturday, June 27, 2020 | 7:54 PM


Nate Ward scored goals in soccer, kicked extra points and caught passes in football, hit 3-pointers on the basketball court and carried the baton around the track oval. With each sport, he made his mark.

It was like the Greensburg Central Catholic multi-sport athlete had an extra gear and could find it as the seasons changed.

Ward, though, who graduated as one of GCC’s most productive and successful sports stars, said it’s more about a drive to win.

“I wouldn’t say I had an extra gear,” he said. “If anything, I like to think that I want to excel and succeed at whatever I do, whether that be in athletics or just anything in life.”

That success in so many sports made Ward an easy choice for the Tribune-Review Westmoreland Male Athlete of the Year.

Jake Johnson of Mt. Pleasant, Devin Whitlock of Belle Vernon, Aidan Bushey of Derry and Dillon Ferretti of Hempfield also were considered.

Ward, who is headed to Division I Indiana to continue his soccer career, had 31 goals and eight assists to pace GCC to its first WPIAL Class A championship since 2009. He played in a national all-star game and was recognized as one of the top players in the country.

He worked around multiple defenders on numerous occasions to find the net and mentored a young group.

“The best thing about coaching Nate was his mentality,” GCC boys soccer coach Tyler Solis said. “From coaching and playing soccer all my life, you see a lot of kids with great talent, but it’s no good if you don’t have the mentality to get better.

“I think Nate would agree that none of this would have been possible without his teammates, but Nate really stepped up in the big games.”

In football, he went from full-time kicker to a part-time wide receiver and kick returner. He seemed to embrace the contact of the sport.

Ward was only a kicker as a junior but became a more complete player last fall.

“I recall him recovering a bad snap in a game (in 2019) and taking it in for two points,” GCC football coach Bret Colbert said. “He actually had to dive over a pile to get in. I remember that raising my eyebrows.

“I have no doubt he could be a scholarship football player at the college level — kicker or wide receiver. He was at practice as much as he could be there, often running up the hill for soccer after being with us for an hour or two.”

Colbert said it was a challenge to not “overuse” Ward or jeopardize his soccer future.

“We had no interest in ruining that for him due to some dumb injury on our watch,” Colbert said. “He could have played a lot more. We had so many gifted wide receivers. … All the while, he just smiled and said, ‘Thanks for letting me play some.’ ”

Basketball season followed, and Ward put his focus on playing point guard, often scoring in double figures and creating scoring chances for teammates during another run to the playoffs.

Ward had high hopes for the Centurions’ 1,600-meter relay, for which he ran a key leg, but the coronavirus pandemic shut down spring sports, including track and field.

From where do you get your competitive fire?

I enjoy competition. I’d say I just grew up in a competitive environment.

What was your one shining moment in each sport?

My favorite memory from soccer is the WPIAL championship senior year. Basketball has got to be my game-winner vs. Clairton at home senior year. Football is the game-winning extra point in triple OT vs. Leechburg senior year. The state track meet with my 4-by-4 team was a lot of fun junior year as well.

Even with all you accomplished at GCC, do you have any regrets or do you wish you had one take-back or do-over?

I wouldn’t say I have any regrets from my time at Central because every time we lost or I came up short, I learned from it, and it just made me want it more.

How have you stayed sharp in training during the covid-19 pandemic?

I’ve been preparing for (Indiana) during the pandemic, trying to keep my foot on the ball even if it requires hopping a fence or two.

Do you anticipate playing right away at Indiana?

I’m not sure how much time I will get freshman year. IU had four or five starting freshmen last year in their lineup, one who went professional and is now playing in the MLS. You get out what you put in, and I’ll happily play whatever role the coaching staff decides will help the team succeed.

What have you taken from each sport to make you a better soccer player?

I think every sport I have played has helped in their own way. I think track definitely helped with endurance. Football and basketball probably helped with quickness and decision making and stuff like that. They were fun.

What will you tell your kids about 2020?

Man, 2020 has been a crazy year. If I have anything to say about all that has gone on, it would be to get off social media, put down your phone and go out of your way to make someone else’s day better. Because things can and are changing quickly, and there’s not enough time to spread hate.

Where would you go for a dream vacation?

Australia. Or Europe for a Champions League game.

What celebrity would you most like to meet?

David Beckham

Who is the best follow on Twitter?

Indiana men’s soccer (@IndianaMSOC).

Do you think soccer will be the same after the virus dissipates?

It’s tough to say what the future holds for soccer. My hope is that all goes back to normal and the NCAA still holds a fall season.

Has the shutdown of sports taught you any lessons?

Fortunately, the virus has not affected my family or myself as much as it has millions of other people. My best wishes and prayers go out to everyone whose lives were changed due to the virus. If anything, the virus has driven me to find some new hobbies and go explore the outdoors more.

What is the lasting image you would like GCC fans to have of Nate Ward?

If my name comes up in the years to come, I hope I’m remembered as a good guy and good teammate at Central.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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