Jihad Ward on growing up in Philly, turning ‘s–t around’ for Giants

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Journeyman defensive end Jihad Ward, a seven-year veteran signed by the Giants as a free agent this offseason, huddles with Post columnist Steve Serby for some Q&A:

Q: Describe your on-field mentality.

A: It’s like going to war with my guys. I try to ride for people that’s gonna ride for me. I don’t ever quit, I’m gonna keep fighting to this day. I’m just trying to ride till the wheels fall off, and I ain’t gonna stop.

Q: When you’re in the locker room pregame, when does that transformation actually begin?

A: It begins when I’m in the room by myself. I’m in one of the coaches’ rooms, when nobody’s there, when they have meetings and stuff to get ready for the game and stuff like that, everybody hyped up, I just say a prayer in that lonely room by myself. Sometimes in that room I’ll probably have memories back in the day, I’ll probably have memories in the future, I’ll probably have memories that I was scarred from in my past. … Sometimes I might smile, you never know, I might cry. You know me, you don’t know what’s gonna come out. I’m on “go” mode after that, once I come out of that room.

Q: What memories that scarred you drive you to this day?

A: I’m from the streets of Philadelphia, so it’s just a lot of pain and a lot of stuff like that. Not even just that, it’s just like my life, my story, who I want to become. It could be bad times in there, it’s gonna be some love in my mind, it’s gonna be some hate in my mind. But either way I’m on “go” mode.

Q: Describe what it was like growing up in North Philly.

A: It’s a city of no hope. You can’t back down, you can’t let this city see you afraid or it’s gonna get you hurt in a bad situation. I just thank God that I made it out of there. But I still have scars from the city of Philadelphia.

Jihad Ward
Bill Kostroun

Q: Why do you think you’re still scarred from that?

A: I’ve been around negativity all my life, so it’s just like the person that I am, I’m just trying to find positivity. Thank God I have certain activities that make me be positive being a football player, being the good man that I am, being a good family man. I could have been in a different route. I’m celebrating it every day because I didn’t go to that path.

Q: What’s the biggest adversity you felt you had to overcome?

A: When I was in junior college [Globe Institute of Technology] … I really didn’t have no money like that just to go to school, ’cause if I couldn’t go to junior college, I was just gonna go back in the streets of Philadelphia. Being in junior college wasn’t really college for me. Plus I was dealing with a lot of stuff at home. It was always an inch of me coming back home. I tried to grind it out so that way I won’t go home and be a different type of dude at home. That was some rough times, especially when my brother passed away and family stuff that’s going on in the city of Philadelphia. … if you don’t understand that, then I’m sorry for not explaining it to you that well, but it’s just a rough city.

Q: How is North Philly rougher than most?

A: If you fold man, you’re gonna crack. You can’t be scared in the streets of Philly, you can’t be like afraid. It’s a grimy environment in the city of Philadelphia. People are saying it’s the City of Brotherly Love, there’s not no love over there. … This city is really shackles. It’s a city full of, like, rage.

Q: Are you proud of yourself for making it out?

A: I’m not proud of myself of making it out of the city ’cause I still go back to the city because I have family and friends. I’m proud that I did not break. I’m just glad that I put myself in that position to give back to the city, and I’m one of the people that these kids out there, they look at, for football games, back when I was younger everybody still remembers me. I have camps every year supporting the young ones out there. I want these kids to stay in the right path because they don’t really look up to nobody because their father’s not around.

Q: Describe your older brother Darren.

A: When he passed, he was 29. … I was 18. … It affected me real bad, especially in the streets of Philadelphia. He’s in a good place now, and I’m happy he’s in a good place. I pray for him every time. I was real close to him.

Q: What exactly happened to him?

A: He got shot.

Q: How often do you think about him?

A: I think about him every day. I love him. There were some good times that we had. I think about my whole family, dead or alive. He ain’t the only one that passed that I miss.

Q: Describe him.

A: He was big brother, he always protected me, he’d always keep me under his wing. That’s my dog. Anything I needed, he was willing to give me if I needed some food or stuff like that. He was my mentor in the streets of Philadelphia. When I play them games and stuff I know he’s looking at me.

Q: Did you lose friends to gun violence?

A: Yes, I lost a lot of friends. A lot of people I was close to. … It was really family, to be honest with you.

Q: Did you almost lose your life at any point?

A: Oh, plenty of times. That’s what comes with it in the city of Philadelphia. Almost lost my life plenty of times, wrong place, wrong time. … You gotta man-up and do what you gotta do to protect your family, you can’t let nobody just disrupt your family, so you gotta do what you gotta do. Thank God that God was on my side to know which route was the right route or which one was the wrong route. I coulda got killed, I coulda went to jail. But my mother told me right from wrong. And right now, all my life, I’ve just been doing what my heart tells me to do.

Q: What’s the closest shave with death you had?

A: When I was getting chased from my neighborhood. … It’s not really gangs and stuff like that, it’s all about blocks, same thing with Jersey and New York, so it’s just like whoever’s on that street. It’s a lot of war going on, and I was a little kid. I didn’t know what was going on, I was just trying to get something to eat. And then next thing you know it was a couple of guys that came out of the car, they started chasing me and my guys. I’m going through alleyways and stuff. I had to bum-rush to get at my grandma’s house ’cause they were shooting at us. It was a little bit too close, they coulda got me, but for some reason when your ass is cautious, boy, you run faster (laugh).

Q: How old were you?

A: Around 15, 16.

Q: How good is your trash talk game?

A: People think I talk trash, but I’m really focused and stuff like that. I’ll talk my s–t if one of the opponent’s team is f—–g with my teammates. But I ain’t really talking trash, I’m trying to f–k you up.

Giants
Jihad Ward gets a hand on a Tyler Heinicke pass.
USA TODAY Sports

Q: Do you play angry?

A: I’m not the bully. You don’t know what reaction is gonna come out of me on game day, ’cause I’m a live wire. I don’t even know what I’m gonna do, that’s the crazy part.

Q: Describe defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s swag.

A: Wink don’t give a f –k, who you are. He’s just got a mentality, mindset where it’s like, I’ll ride with my dogs regardless. Same thing as me. You know, some coaches they just be trying to act like a coach that they’re really not. Wink is just being himself. I don’t even look at Wink as a coach in my eyes. I look at him as a person that’s related to you. It’s like you’re in a cookout, and you’re spending time with your uncle, or your cousins and stuff like that, and he’s your family member. Some people on that cookout they call bulls–t about football. But this guy right here, he knows football. So he’s a football junkie.

Q: Brian Daboll?

A: He’s the same way. He’s also a cousin or an uncle you can just sit down and play some cards and may drink some liquor and stuff like that and just chill and talk football. These coaches, they’re more like family.

Q: Dexter Lawrence?

A: Belly of the beast. Dex is a bully. I’m the live wire. He’s right at you as soon as the game starts. He don’t care who you are, and that’s the type of mindset that I have, but he’s just a bully..

Q: Is Leonard Williams a bully?

A: He’s a bully, but here’s the thing: People see him smile a lot, but do not get Leo on his bad side. He’s a peaceful bully. He’s gonna make some plays, and all that stuff, but if you try him, that’s when he’s gonna destroy your ass. Dex is upfront — he’s gonna bully your ass through the whole game. You don’t know when I’m gonna bully your ass. I’m like chess with it.

Q: Evan Neal?

A: He’s a soldier, man. He’s still learning. He’s a big-ass baby, man. He’s a beast. I’m telling you, man, he’s gonna be one of the best offensive tackles in the league. He’s got grit, and he ain’t backing down on nobody. He’s gonna be one of them guys.

Q: Andrew Thomas?

A: Andrew Thomas is the best tackle in the league.

Q: Saquon Barkley?

A: You got the Derrick Henrys, the power backs, and you got the skill backs like [Christian] McCaffrey. Combine that, that’s Saquon.

Q: Azeez Ojulari?

A: I love his game, he’s a competitor. He really don’t say much but he’s just like me, but quieter. Long story short, he’s just a helluva player, man. I love rushing with him.

Q: How does his pass-rush game differ from Kayvon Thibodeaux’s?

A: They’re some pass-rushing demons. The thing about Azeez, he got it all, he can power you, he can finesse you and stuff like that. Kayvon, he can power you too, but he’s a speed demon. And Azeez, he just got good hand placement, once he sees your hands, it’s over for you.

Q: You think both of them can be double-digit sack guys?

A: Hell yeah. I know they’re gonna be double-digit sack guys, hell yeah, no questions asked.

Giants
Jihad Ward
AP

Q: From your Instagram: “Life is better when you don’t give AF.”

A: It’s always gonna be distractions where you’re at, it’s always gonna be negative people where you’re at, all you gotta do is just try to find out who really loved you, don’t matter what race you are, it’s all about who loves you, and really cares about you. I have an open heart, but I don’t put my heart to everybody. It’s hard to get to me. But you’ll find out once I care about you. I just tell people to live their life, man, because this life is too short. Then again, I’m from the city of Philadelphia where I’m surprised that I am 28 and still living. I just tell everybody to stay blessed, be happy. You don’t want to live this life with regret. You don’t want to live this football league stuff with regret. When I’m done with my life I could just say I lived it.

Q:. From your Instagram: “I’m the only NFL player who wears a hoodie on Gameday. Please don’t copy my swag.”

A: (Laugh) That’s just me, I love wearing hoodies. … I’ve been wearing hoodies since I was a little kid. Everybody else wears chains and stuff and earrings and stuff with grills on their teeth. … I like to wear my hoodie.

Q: What is your favorite tattoo?

A: The Malcolm X one my lady likes. I have a Prince of Egypt stuff on my hamstrings that I like. I have more than 100 on my body.

Q: If you could pick the brain of any defender in NFL history, who would it be?

A: Ray Lewis.

Q: If you could go one-on-one against any running back in NFL history?

A: Marshawn Lynch.

Q: If you could sack one quarterback in NFL history?

A: I already sacked Tom Brady … Aaron Rodgers.

Q: Describe the time you threw a medicine ball at the weight room wall in Indianapolis.

A: I was on IR, I was just caught up in the moment. I didn’t even know that that wall was gonna break. I’m amped, I’m happy as s–t, and then the next thing you know — like I said, I’m a live wire, you don’t know what the hell I’m gonna do. Thank God the Indianapolis Colts got insurance, ’cause I broke the hell out of that wall.

Q: You worked at a Modell’s.

A: I used to work at Modell’s in junior college, to get some transportation to go to school and stuff like that. I was making $200-something a week. … I was cashier, I was license apparel, and I was sporting goods.

Q: How long have you had a boombox?

A: It’s just to make the locker room alive. I hate going in a locker room quiet. That s–t gets on my nerves so bad. I don’t like nothing quiet, I don’t care if I’m in a house alone, I gotta hear music. I feel dead without playing music in a room.

Giants
Jihad Ward
Robert Sabo

Q: Describe your love of dirt bikes.

A: I’ve becoming a dirt bike rider since I was a little kid. Couldn’t afford a dirt bike back in the day, but I have friends that ride dirt bikes back in North Philadelphia, so they just let me ride their dirt bikes. It’s a Philadelphia thing. That’s just my whole motto. It’s my peacemaker.

Q: Three dinner guests?

A: My oldest brother [Darren] that passed away, my lady [Sydnee Blueitt], my great grandma [Lettie].

Q: Favorite movie?

A: “Training Day.”

Q: Favorite actor?

A: Denzel Washington.

Q: Favorite actress?

A: Viola Davis.

Q: Favorite singer/rapper/entertainer?

A: The Rock [Dwayne Johnson].

Q: Favorite meal?

A: Macaroni and cheese.

Q: Did you ever imagine you’d have seven years already in the NFL?

A: I did the JUCO, and when I did the JUCO, I got a full scholarship to Illinois. Going on away games was amazing for me. I’m traveling, I’m playing Nebraska, I’m playing University of Washington. I’m like s–t, damn, I ain’t gonna stop doing this! I seen people go to the league, so I’m like, “I can do that.”

Q: Tell me what you see at midnight Sunday.

A: I see us winning this game, going back home, everybody rest up, and get ready for whoever we gotta face in the playoffs.

Q: What is your message to Giants fans?

A: Don’t lose faith, don’t give up, man, just don’t lose no faith. I know that Giants fans been deep underwater of faith in the past couple of years. It’s time to change that. Buy in. It’s time to turn this s–t around. We’ve already seen a glimpse of growth of the Giants. Why not increase it?

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