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Denzel Ward knew it would be Michigan

In the spring spring, Chicago Hales Franciscan offensive lineman Denzel Ward had yet to ever suit up on the gridiron. Over the summer, he picked up first first scholarship offer, from Purdue. On Oct. 12, he didn't yet hold an offer from Michigan. Eight days later, he was pledged to the Wolverines' 2014 recruiting class.
The entire process has been a whirlwind for Ward. That it ended with a commitment to Michigan is fitting, since the young man admits he grew up a fan of the Wolverines. It wasn't just that fandom that made the decision for him, however.
"I always was a fan of Michigan," he said. "I see their vision and plan for me to become a greater person and player. I understand patience is a virtue and I will wait my time to play.
"It was more of a confort level with me, and I knew I was comfortable with it being so close to home at such a great institution and a place where it fits me perfectly. I'm just not a guy who likes to hold out but also a guy who's solid on his word."
Waiting was not in the cards for his commitment, of course. He visited for the Illinois game Oct. 13, and the Michigan coaching staff promptly offered. Over the course of the week - after planning to return to Ann Arbor the following weekend - Ward realized that he knew Michigan was the best choice for him.
He even hinted to the U-M coaching staff prior to the trip that he was ready to make a pledge. By the time he told Brady Hoke he was ready to become a Wolverine, Ward was fully settled.
"I communicated with [Michigan Director of Player Personnel Chris] Singletary the night before that I wanted to commit," Ward said. Right before Coach Hoke was about to start getting ready for the game, Coach Singletary brought me to a room with Coach Hoke and [recruiting coordinator Jeff] Hecklinski.
"I had a little small talk at first, then I said, 'Let me get to the point, I want to let you know you have my commitment to be a part of your program.' He went crazy and jumped up and gave me the hugest hug ever."
Following the commitment, there was of course a game to watch. Ward's first visit as a committed Wolverine was a thrilling one to see. His future teammates knocked off rival Michigan State 12-10 on a last-minute field goal.
"It was crazy, so many people knew my name and it was a nailbiter," he said. "I was scared, but they pulled it through and it was the best day to commit, reaching 900 wins and getting Paul Bunyan back. I think I had the best day to commit until we get to the 1000th win."
The 6-9, 285-pound Ward is still new to the game after being a lifelong basketball player, but he is learning fast. He has nearly completed his first year as a football player, with a deep playoff run on deck for Hales Franciscan. The transition from hardcourt to gridiron is not an uncommon one, though. In fact, 2013 Michigan commit Logan Tuley-Tillman made the same transition in recent years, and his relationship with Ward - and the advice he was able to give - helped the young prospect see that Michigan is a good fit.
Tuley-Tillman has even inspired Ward to don his recruiting cap, and help the Wolverines pull in the best 2014 class possible.
"[Talking with Tuley-Tillman] was more of a seal-the-deal thing for me," Ward said. "I was already sold on it from day one, but it helped seeing someone else who came from basketball. He has also strived through football and believes in the future of the program.
"I also want to have a better class than theirs, so I'm on the job [as a recruiter] as soon as the playoffs are over."
Although he's trading in his high-top sneakers for cleats at the college level, Ward isn't totally done with basketball, either. The highly ranked U-M hoops squad - and top recruit Mitch McGary - have a new number one fan.
"I'll make it up to Michigan again this fall for sure if I can, but winning state is the ultimate goal for me," he said. "I'll definitely have to make it up soon though, because I made a new friend named Mitch McGary and I told him I'll be up to some of the basketball games so he can dunk on some guys for me."
You can see more premium coverage of Ward and his commitment with our initial stories on the pledge, and our premium message board, The Fort. You can share this article on social media using the buttons below.