The chip on Cameron Ward’s shoulder has helped him become one of college football's best quarterbacks

• Washington State quarterback Cameron Ward sits down for an exclusive interview with PFF.

• One of the best quarterbacks in the country: Ward’s 88.2 grade this season is a top-20 mark among FBS quarterbacks.

• Leading one of the nation’s biggest surprises: Washington State is currently ranked 13th in the nation, the program’s highest ranking in five years.

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

Anyone who’s invested in college football knows Cameron Ward, the starting quarterback for the No. 13 Washington State Cougars and a top-15 Heisman Trophy candidate according to most sportsbooks.

Three years ago, Ward was a virtual unknown. The West Columbia, Texas, native wasn’t even rated by a major recruiting service. He received some interest from FBS schools coming out of high school, but it never materialized into scholarship offers. 

“I would go to every camp,” Ward said in an exclusive interview with PFF. “There would constantly be teams who told me they’d be in contact with me. And it just didn’t happen.”

In particular, one school that snubbed Ward stands out more than any other.

“The biggest one since I went to a lot of their camps was the Houston Cougars,” Ward said. “They were 45 minutes from my house. That was the biggest team that I wanted to offer me, but they didn’t.”

Ward ultimately landed at Incarnate Word, one of two FCS schools to offer him coming out of Columbia High School. 

“That was all I needed,” he said.

Ward led all FCS quarterbacks across his two seasons with the Cardinals in passing touchdowns (71) and ranked in the top 10 in big-time throws (37). He entered the transfer portal following the 2021 season, where he was heavily recruited, including by Ole Miss, Nebraska and, ironically, Houston. Despite finally receiving an offer from his hometown team, he decided to play for a different Cougars squad.

“As soon as I stepped foot in Washington State, I knew this was where I wanted to be,” Ward said. “It gave me back-home vibes. I’m from a small town where there’s only about 2,500 people. There’s about 30,000 people here in Pullman, but it’s a small-town vibe. I don’t really need anything flashy, to be honest. As long as you have a football and a couple restaurants, I’m fine with that.”

While Ward doesn’t need flashiness in his life, his game does exactly that. This season, the fourth-year junior’s 88.2 grade is a top-20 mark in college football. His 151.7 passer rating on throws 10-plus yards downfield ranks second among FBS quarterbacks, as well. When asked what separates him from other quarterbacks in the nation, Ward credits the people who snubbed him in high school.

“I play the game a different way,” he said. “I have different motivations. From my past, I have a lot of hate for the coaches who never offered me who I feel like should have offered me. The five stars that I got to go against in high school, I just always felt like I was better than them. Compared to other quarterbacks in college football, there’s nobody like me.”

Ward isn’t the only Cougar who was overlooked in high school. According to 247Sports, Washington State doesn’t have a single former five- or four-star recruit on its roster. In fact, Wazzu’s roster is the worst in the Power Five when it comes to how the players were rated coming out of high school, according to the site’s team talent composite. However, that’s what Ward believes makes the Cougars so special.

“I always carry a chip on my shoulder each and every day,” he said. “A majority of our team is guys who have been overlooked their entire lives. Individually, we all carry something different than any other team. That allows us to play big-time football when we need to each and every Saturday.”

Washington State has done just that. The Cougars are currently 4-0 and No. 13 in the AP poll, their highest ranking in five years. While Ward feels the ranking is warranted, he also isn’t giving it too much thought.

“I feel like we deserve it,” he said. “What we went through this offseason, a lot of programs don’t go through. We deserve it, but at the same time, we’re not done yet. In my opinion, the Pac-12 is the best conference in college football right now. Anybody can be beaten on any given day.”

The Pac-12 has six teams in the top 20, the most of any conference. It’s also the strongest conference at the quarterback position, boasting players such as Ward, Caleb Williams, Michael Penix Jr., Bo Nix and Shedeur Sanders.

Ten of the conference's current 12 members are set to depart following this season, though. Washington State is one of the two schools left behind, casting doubt on whether the top-15 team will even be a Power Five program next season. Ward thinks his school has shown it deserves to remain with the elites.

“I think it’s already been proven,” he said. “Not even what we’re doing this year. In the past, what Washington State has done. Washington State should always be a Power Five institute. It’s a great academic school, great athletics school.”

One way the Cougars can force other Power Five conferences to acknowledge them is by continued success on the gridiron, something Ward thinks is very much within reach.

“I think we’re capable of everything,” he said. “Pac-12 championship, New Year’s Six Bowl. Everything we want is out in front of us.”

Something else that’s in front of Ward is the 2024 NFL Draft, which he can declare for after this season.

“That’s for sure a dream of mine,” Ward said. “But right now, I just live my life one day at a time. I ain’t going to be this young tomorrow. I’m just a 21-year-old college student. I just go play football and play some video games, and the future will take care of itself.”

The only professional career Ward cares about right now is that of his floor-spacing slasher in MyCareer mode on “NBA 2K24.” 

“He’s a 90,” he said of his player’s overall rating. “I had to buy the [virtual currency], though. I’m not grinding from 60 to 85. I have to work on his shot a little bit.”

When asked what his own rating should be if a college football video game currently existed, Ward pondered for a second.

“You can put me right now at like a 91,” he said. “I always need to work myself up some more. But they have to have my arm strength at least at a 96. I’m making every throw on the field.”



Ward went from a zero-star recruit with no FBS offers to a player who could be in the “Madden NFLvideo game as soon as next season. Throughout this journey, he’s learned to rely on the man in the mirror.

“My biggest ‘why’ is myself,” Ward said. “This is something that I really want to do. Playing football is something that I love to do. Every chance I get on the field, why not prove to yourself that you are who you say you are?”

He’ll try to continue proving that this weekend when No. 13 Washington State travels to the Rose Bowl to take on UCLA.

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