Contributor Terri Winaught – Heins Ward: No typical Beginning

Everyone who follows professional football–and especially Pittsburgh Steelers fans–can describe with pride the numerous accomplishments of over-achiever and Pittsburgh Steeler Heins Ward.  What many may not know, however, is what a tough beginning this lion-hearted sports legend and legendary philanthropist had.

In Part 1: No typical Beginning, we’ll explore what it was like for this mixed-race African-American and Korean born youngster to be raised by his Korean mother as a single parent after coming to the United States. 

Born on March 8, 1976 in Seoul, South Korea to a Korean mother and an African American soldier/father, Hines E. Ward Jr.’s journey to the NFL was far from typical.

He made the move to the Atlanta, Georgia area when he was just 1 year old.  His single mom, Young-He Ward, who eventually managed to provide for her son despite coming to the US alone knowing no English, would raise him from there. Over time, Hines began to appreciate the sacrifices Young-He made for him and the determination she had to make a life for them. Young Heins showed how much he appreciated his Mom’s determined sense of sacrifice by embodying it in his heart and soul.

Hines became a top scholar-athlete in Georgia, not only as quarterback for his highschool, but also on the baseball field. He was even drafted at the end of his senior year by the Florida Marlins, who offered a $25,000 signing bonus. But Hines chose to pursue his first love and went on to play college football for the Georgia Bulldogs.

True to his nature, Hines proved he would do anything to get playing time at Georgia. Though recruited as a quarterback, Hines was so successful in other roles, and he eventually stopped practicing with the quarterbacks altogether. Whatever Hines was asked or volunteered to do, he put his heart and soul into. When temporarily pressed back to the quarterback position in his second year because of a starting quarterback injury, Hines was able to successfully move the Bulldogs down the field, and even got the nod as the starring QB in the Peach Bowl, where he still holds the record for the most passing yards. By his junior year, however–under the new coach, Jim Donnan–Heins was made a full-time receiver. Part of the reason for that was that Hines was the first player to come to see him when he became coach. In that first conversation with Donnan, Hines told his new coach that he would do whatever it took to help the Bulldogs.

At the end of his senior year he was bestowed All-ACC honors and finished his college career as Georgia’s second all-time receiver with 144 receptions. His 3,870 total yards ranked second in Bulldogs history to Herschel Walker.

When Heins entered the 1998 NFL draft, he was concerned that his role in multiple positions might affect his ability to be chosen by an elite team.  He also received terrible news when a pre-draft physical revealed he was missing an ACL in his left knee, the result of a childhood bicycle accident. However, he was finally picked up by the Pittsburg Steelers in the 3rd round, 92nd overall.  From the moment the black and gold jersey was handed to him, he knew that it was his job to make the teams who passed him up regret their decision.


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