Three years ago, as an assistant coach for a St. Frances football program on the verge of establishing itself as a national powerhouse, Josh Ward was in an enviable position. Working specifically with the team’s defense, he had a wide array of future Division I prospects walking through the door.
After assistant coach stints at the college level with the University of Charleston, Western Connecticut State and West Virginia Wesleyan, the Calvert Hall grad was situated to make a significant impact in an area just around the corner from where he grew up.
But, as he assessed his surroundings, Ward came to realize that he still wanted more.
"I wanted to be a head coach — I was hitting that prime age of 30 and I wanted to have my own program,” he said.
So in 2017, Ward changed his path and accepted the opportunity to take over a struggling Concordia Prep football program with the goal of helping what was formerly known as Baltimore Lutheran School not only continue rebranding itself as a school, but also as a contender in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association.
In the two years since, starting from scratch after the school didn’t field a football team in 2016, he’s begun turning things around at a breakneck pace.
“When I came in the building, there were five kids that played football. So, I knew immediately that I had to recruit my guys and get guys in there," Ward said.
In his first season, Ward guided a new group of about 35 players to a 4-6 record in the MIAA C Conference. Last year, Ward was able to attract 42-43 players to the program and generated a 9-3 record.
The team this fall, although relatively young, now has 55 players as Ward has seen continued success recruiting by building relationships with the local recreation football programs in the area.
“It’s tough. Having a lot of young guys is an uphill battle in terms of getting them all on the same page,” Ward said. “But, we have a lot of talent despite how young we are. [We’re] just teaching them to fly around the ball, execute on offense and on defense.”
The Saints were certainly flying around in their season-opener, earning a 57-0 victory over Saint John Paul the Great Catholic (Va.) on Aug. 29.
Looking forward, Ward’s program is part of a brand new MIAA B Conference this fall that features nine teams — a much bigger conference than the four-team “C” league that the program departed.
“It’s exciting to come up, but I told someone last week that we are the new kids — us and Annapolis Area [Christian] — and we’ve got a lot to prove,” said Ward. “We’re the underdogs right now, which I’m fine with being. We’re young, a lot of new guys on the team. Our first game is Saturday against St. Paul’s [for the conference] and we’re just ready to play them.”
To build his program in these early stages, Ward has garnered the interest of public school transfers who are in search of a private school education. Some of Ward’s players were former private school students who had transferred to public school and wanted to come back to the realm of the MIAA.
On the flip side, though, he’s also lost a number of players to transfers to public schools.
“I’ve lost kids that are starters at public schools, now, that were freshmen two years ago and for whatever reason maybe have left because their parents moved further away,” said Ward. “I think the doors swing both ways in that realm in terms of transfers. I don’t think that private schools should ever get a bad knock for that because I think public schools do it just as much.”
Starting quarterback Justin Carter, defensive back/wide receiver Sean Martin, linebacker Keith Bagwell and defensive end Chiebuka Aduaka are part of the changing face of Concordia Prep. Carter [Perry Hall], Bagwell [Poly] and Aduaka [Edgewood] are all transfers.
They’ve appreciated the attention to detail by the coaching staff and their fellow teammates.
“I like the coaches — players are locked in,” Bagwell said. “I mean, coming from the school that I came from last year [we’re] way better in camp. I just like the school overall.”
Those same sentiments were shared by Aduaka. Despite coming from an Edgewood program that saw success last season to the tune of a 9-2 record, he believes that Concordia Prep was the right move for him.
“I didn’t want to say that everyone in Edgewood didn’t want it, but they didn’t want it as bad as I did ... they didn’t want to put the work in,” Aduaka said. “As soon as I came in [to Concordia Prep], I saw the change. I see that everyone wants to not only play for themselves, but play for the team and do what’s got to be done.
“Coach Ward did a good job going out recruiting and getting everybody under his mission. He showed us that we are the underdogs, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t hang. We’re coming to play this season.”