The 49ers added a haul of players over the last few days, and their first round pick, Jimmie Ward, could end up as charismatic as anybody in the group. Ward has the advantage of getting a press conference in Santa Clara, so it is possible one of the other rookies will outdo him, but it will take quite an effort.
Ward met with the media Friday afternoon. We've got a transcript below, but I cannot recommend strongly enough that you should watch the press conference at 49ers.com. He is gregarious with his responses, and seems to enjoy speaking with the media. He was asked about teammates he had met thus far. He said Kaepernick, and he told him, "'Hey you look like my cousin’ and his name is Nick, what a coincidence." It's so random, but just sounds funny. It's funnier watching it.
He presents an incredibly confident demeanor, but it does not strike me as cocky. Rather, he seems to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder. He describes growing up in a tough neighborhood, and given that he is a mid-major guy (NIU is in the MAC), I can see why he might be looking to prove what he can do.
The highlight of the press conference might have been his draft day story. He was down in Mobile, Alabama, and he described driving over to New Orleans to pick up a gift for his mom for her birthday during the day. He only caught the latter half of the draft because of that. He described how he bought her a Louis Vitton purse, and it was the first gift he had given her that cost over $100.
How’s your life changed since being the number 30 overall pick?
“A lot of missed calls. A lot of text messages. But, it’s an awesome experience. I didn’t know where I was going to go in the draft, so it’s a blessing to come and play for one of the top teams in the NFL.”
Where were you last night when you got the phone call?
“I was in Mobile, Alabama at the time. I watched half of the draft because it was my mother’s birthday, so I had to fly to New Orleans and get her a gift and drive back. So, I was on the road for like three hours, but I caught in time, 30thpick.”
You were at home when it happened?
Could you get the draft on the radio?
“You know what, the good thing about social media, I was looking at in on Instagram. Somebody I follow, some website, kept posting each pick one by one. I missed 1-11, about the time of the 12th pick, I was at home.”
I hope you weren’t driving.
Were you expecting to be a first-round pick?
“It was out there. It’s the draft. You don’t know how or where it’s going to shake or what’s going to happen at the end. But, I ended up going in the first round and I’m very thankful and I’m very happy for that.”
I just wanted to make sure that I have my story straight. You flew to New Orleans to get your mom a birthday present and were driving back?
“No, more like drive. It’s just the word that I say, I just say fly. Just from where I’m from, I just use that type of slang. I’ll talk proper more.”
How far of a drive was it?
“It was like three hours.”
Is your mom in New Orleans?
“It was a mall. I went to go buy a purse.”
And then what time did you get moving today?
“Early. I didn’t go to sleep last night. Five o’clock, I was on my way to the airport. I had good rest on the plane, so that’s the good thing.”
What teammates have you had a chance to meet?
“Right now, I met [QB Colin] Kaepernick. A pretty cool guy. Kind of funny. He’s got a sense of humor. He’s crazy. He looks like my cousin. That’s what I told him when I first met him. I was like, ‘hey you look like my cousin’ and his name is Nick, what a coincidence. I feel like there’s a lot of great players here. I’m looking forward to meeting [S] Eric Reid, definitely. He’s a good ball player. I can’t wait to meet the other vets. They’re going to take me under their wing and I know I can learn so much from them. It’s a blessing, that’s one thing.”
How closely have you followed this team the last couple of years?
“I’m a competition guy, so I’ll tell you right there I watch competition. I watched college football the majority of the time because that’s who I’m playing against. Now, since I’m in the NFL, I’m an NFL junkie. I’m watching NFL players, NFL teams, because one thing about it, you’ve got to know who you’re playing. You’ve got to know the guys who you’re going up against.”
You just said Kaepernick’s kind of crazy. Could you elaborate?
“No, more like a sense of humor. He’s kind of funny. Crazy on the field. I don’t think he’s crazy in real life.”
Are you here to stay now?
“Yeah, I’m here to stay.”
So, what did you pack to come out here?
“I didn’t even pack. That’s another crazy thing. I packed a bag and a suit. I have t-shirts, sweats, hopefully coach said everything I need is in here, so I’m going to be wearing San Francisco sweats everywhere and take pride in it. Red’s my favorite color. I’ve got my hat and I might not take it off for a good week. If you see me with this hat on next week, that just shows you how passionate I am for this program.”
Do you have any idea how long before you’ll be able to go back to Mobile?
“I have no clue, six or seven weeks. But, how this weather feels, I might not want to go back to Mobile. It’s like 110 degrees in Mobile and it’s humid.”
Did you have finals this week too, I heard in your interview yesterday?
“Yeah, I think finals were this week I think they finished. I have to go back to school probably around next semester.”
You were telling us on the phone about honing your skills against playing against your older brothers. What were those games like and did they take it easy on you because you were the youngest?
“I never actually played against them in a game because they’re older. But, my father used to take us out in the back yard after practice and used to have me tackle them. We used to just run the ball and tackle. I never used to run the ball because they were bigger so they would just crush me around that time, but I used to tackle them. I think that’s when I really picked up my skills on how to tackle.”
So they ran and you tackled?
At what age was that about?
“I was young. I was probably nine, I was eight, nine, seven, they were probably 13, 14, something like that.”
You said you were going to pay attention to your competition out here. So much focus is on 49ers-Seahawks. What do you know about the Seahawks? What do you know about that competition? Have they told you what your role could be in that?
“Not at this point, but I know it’s a very important game, especially from what I saw in the playoffs. I know the Seahawks-49ers, that’s the game of the century right there. I know they’ve got a really good defense, too. I’m happy to help contribute to this defense. I want to see this defense be the best defense in the nation.”
We always ask players who they maybe compare themselves to as a pro-player, who would you be?
“[S] Ed Reed. He has some of the same traits that I do.”
Were you not recruited by any SEC teams?
“No I was not recruited by any SEC teams. I only had two offers coming out of high school, Northern Illinois and Southern Illinois. I don’t know. I had never been in trouble in high school. Everything happens for a reason. I’m still here today. I got to play in the Senior Bowl, so I would say that God wanted me to take that route, so that’s what I did.”
So that helped you?
“Yeah, exactly. It helped me be humble. I’m a humble guy. I’m not a bragger. I don’t do too much talking. I don’t talk on the field. I talk with pads. I talk with shoulder pads and I talk with helmet.”
It seemed like at Northern Illinois you did like to talk about your versatility and you did do a lot, but you started mostly at strong safety. Was it a traditional strong safety position or was it more because you covered the slot receiver and you did a lot of other things as well?
“I was the best tackler on the team and the best, just about the best cover guy. So, he put me on the strong side, the defensive coordinator, because he wanted me to just in case someone breaks off or somebody breaks a run, he knew I could clean it up. And, basically when it’s a slot wide receiver or a tight end that’s their best guy, I’m probably going to be in coverage the whole game covering him. So, it just depends on the game plan going towards the week.”
Where do you think you learned your tackling technique? Sometimes that’s an issue in the NFL where you see guys not really wrapping guys up and pulling them down.
“I’ve got to give it to my father, again. Coaches, too, over the years. Each coach, there’s no such thing as a bad coach. Every coach you’ll learn something from, every coach. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m a sponge. I’ve soaked in a lot of stuff over the years. I never realized what I was doing at a young age. When you’re young, it’s all fun. It’s still fun, but you just don’t pay attention. You don’t pay attention to the roll-tackling, you don’t pay attention to the strips. You’re just out there doing it and you’re just trying to get the job done. And then me paying so much attention having so much passion for it when I was young, it just carried on to where I am now.”
When you were tackling your older brothers, what worked? Going low? Or did you have to mix it up?
“Yeah, mainly get them on the ground. So, that’s how I am now. If you watch the film, you might see a few kill shots. You might see some roll tackles. You may see some I’m just getting them on the ground, grabbing their jersey. It’s just I was taught to not miss tackles. I was just taught to not be that guy that missed a tackle and slapped his hands, hit the ground. That’s the sign of a loser, so I don’t like that.”
Do you have an idea just looking at the defensive playbook how much responsibility you’re going to have to learn those positions and how much more complex it’s going to be than what you had at NIU?
“Yeah, it’s going to be a lot on my shoulders because I’m going to try to learn two spots. I’m not going to try, I am. I’m going to learn two spots. It’s going to be more complex because it’s the NFL and I’m just coming from college, but it’s dedication. If it’s something you love, you’ll get the job done.”
What do you remember about your matchup with RB Dri Archer at Kent State?
“I remember my junior year and I remember my senior year. Junior year, we were one for one. Speedster, that’s what I call him. Routes, he needs to work on his routes a little bit. He got better his senior year, but the guy ran what, a 4.2, 4.3? So they send him out for a fly. Just watching when he beat me, I got better off that film because I watched it and I thought about the whole year. Like the whole year. When I get beat, I don’t forget those plays. I know the plays I got beat on. I’m thinking about it that whole year and going into that game, just had a feeling, I was like, ‘Alright, we’re one-on-one. You’re going to have to show me you’re worth it.’ So, they did the play, I picked it off and they didn’t throw it to him anymore. I think I learned off my mistake.”
Looking in hindsight, obviously weren’t recruited by the SEC schools, but because you had that versatility at Northern Illinois, do you think that’s why you went in the first round because that’s what drew the 49ers attention? Your ability to play different positions on defense and special teams.
“I think it goes a lot with that, but it also goes with my character because nobody wants a jerk on their team. If you’ve got a jerk and you’ve got somebody that’s all about themselves, that’s not going to fit in to a great program like the 49ers. You’ve got to be all about the team. You’ve got to help contribute. I think it’s about my skills, but it’s also about my character.”
What parts of your character do you pride yourself on?
“Just being able to, if I do get beat one play, just be able to suck it in and go back out and compete. Never being down and always like hepling. You could say that’s leadership because I’ve got good leadership skills. When other players get down, I’m not the yelling guy. Only time I yell at a guy is if the guy is really messing up. I’m not going to do it in front of everybody. I can pull him to the side and we can have a man-to-man conversation. Basically just lifting guys up when they need it. Give them that extra hand when they need it.”
General manager Trent Baalke said you’ve got an against-all-odds story. I guess part of that is not being heavily recruited. But, do you agree with that and are there other elements of your story or of your life where you feel like you’ve beaten some odds?
“Yeah, that’s true. It was a tough neighborhood I grew up in. Just thinking back, somehow I got through it. My mother, she pushed me. She moved me around different neighborhoods to try to keep me away from trouble. I had to stop hanging around with friends that I loved. And you realize that the friends that aren’t doing the right thing when you leave them, like when I went off to college for four years, you come back and the connection’s not there because that person may not be on that level that you’re on, just not trying to do the right stuff that you’re trying to do. That really helped me out by my mother moving me out of certain neighborhoods.”
In and around Mobile?
What was her reaction to receiving the purse?
“Oh man, she was too happy. It was in front of the whole family too, so I ended up buying a Louis Vuitton. I never could afford anything like that. I never could afford a Michael Kors purse. That’s what, $300? First time me ever buying my mother something over like $100 because I don’t have any money. Section 8. She was proud. She was happy. And then it was crazy I ended up getting drafted. I remember my 8th grade teacher, Ms. Bryant, said, I used to be a little class clown in middle school, so she told me one day, ‘You’re going to make your mother cry one day.’ Pulling me to the side, ‘You’re going to make your mother cry one day.’ And she was right. But it was tears of joy. I guess that was a sign from God.”
What was your reaction arriving today and seeing the stadium and just getting a feel for what it’s going to be like playing here?
“Oh, I love it. Football. You know the smell. If you’re a football player, you know the smell. And then if you’re a football player, you just know when you’re around great guys and a winning program like this, you know you’re in a good situation. Let’s put it that way.”
Did you and head coach Jim Harbaugh hit it off already? You say some of the things that he likes. He likes a lot of the stuff that you’re saying.
“I’ll tell you this, when I first came in for my visit, I didn’t know what to expect. [Defensive coordinator] coach Vic [Fangio] was giving me the poker face and I’m like, ‘Oh, what have I got here?’ So I meet with coach Harbaugh. We’re in there, we’re chopping it up for five minutes, conversation, that’s my slang. We’re in there talking and then all of a sudden, it goes for twenty minutes to thirty minutes. I think we were in there for an hour talking. Somebody had to come and get us. We weren’t just talking about football, we were talking about life and then we found out that we just got a lot of stuff in common, just like where he comes from and the way I think.”
What are your brothers names?
“James Lipsey and Cortez Lipsey.”