“Joey literally bounced off the walls as a kid, and we really felt that wrestling would be good for him,” Beth Ward said. “The cutoff for our local wrestling program was 5 or 6 years old, but I just told the coaches, ‘Give him one day.’
“The rest was history.”
All eyes on states
Joey stares up at banners that hang above him at Wapakoneta High School in Wapakoneta, Ohio, his eyes fixed on the names of state champions of old.
While most kids want an extra half-hour of cartoons, a 7-year-old Joey, who is competing in a tournament in this gym, wants only to join the ranks of Ohio state champions.
He will one day.
“I remember looking over at my dad and telling him that I wanted to be a state champ, and he said, ‘Joey, I’m going to do everything in my power to help you achieve that goal’,” Joey said.
Since that moment, goals have been his thing.
He doesn’t attribute his back-to-back state titles in high school or qualifying for the NCAA Championships as a freshman in college to single-legs or tilts.
But Joey, now a redshirt sophomore at UNC, hasn’t just set goals, he’s lived by them.
A piece of paper attached to the ceiling above his childhood bed listed his goals and aspirations. While the goals were ever-changing, a note always hung, reminding him what he was working for.
“It was something I looked at every day, before I went to sleep and when I woke up,” Joey said. “Just a little bit of motivation that got me going every day.”
Those goals and that drive are what brought Joey to UNC in the first place.
As soon as Joey stepped on to UNC’s campus, he could tell it was special. Much like he fell in love with the wrestling program, Joey fell in love with the campus. And his soon-to-be coach knew the campus would love him, too.
“I always knew Joey would excel as an athlete, and there wasn’t a single doubt in my mind that Joey would thrive at Carolina as a person,” Coach C.D. Mock said. “Carolina is a perfect fit for Joey Ward, and Joey Ward is a perfect fit for Carolina.”
Joey, who received scholarship offers from a plethora of Division I programs — including Stanford and Virginia — was so impressed with his visit that he wanted to cancel all of his other official visits before he even left campus.
But it was another factor that took it over the top.
“There’s a statistic that we learned when our family was researching Carolina,” Beth said. “There are more girls than guys, and I think that Joey noticed that during his visit. So that was also a factor.”
Whatever it was that drew Joey to UNC, his fans and coaches are happy it did.
In wrestling, athletes are classified into weight classes, leaving wrestlers with the everlasting struggle of maintaining the lowest possible weight to gain a competitive advantage.
Some wrestlers will even skip meals and take other measures to lose weight before matches.
“Cutting weight is a very real part of our sport. There’s no denying that, and it can be really hard on the wrestlers” Mock said.
In addition to maintaining his weight, Joey hasn’t cut corners during his academic career.
The redshirt sophomore is an exercise and sport science major, and the same sort of drive that has propelled him to success on the mat is evident in the classroom as well.
“I’ve taken the hardest classes offered at this school from physics to biology, and I’ve earned a high GPA,” Joey said.
He is currently applying to the Division of Radiologic Science at the UNC School of Medicine, an extremely competitive field of study. He has been selected as one of the final 15 applicants and is entering the final stage: face-to-face interviews.
“Most students struggle with the classes that Joey takes, but then you throw in wrestling into the equation and it becomes a whole new challenge,” Beth Ward said. “Now try doing all that without eating for days at a time.”
Joey is hungry. He always has been.
It’s a part of his history.