It was all about making his mother proud.
Rashaad Coward didn’t start playing football until he was in eighth grade, preferring, instead, to play video games and pick fights in school. But when the Flatlands native finally stepped onto the gridiron, all of that changed.
Now, the former Sheepshead Bay football star is set to suit up for his final college game as Old Dominion squares off against Eastern Michigan University in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl on Dec. 23. He’s certain his mother is proud.
“It was new start, being away from all the distractions and the trouble,” Coward said of his time at Old Dominion. “My mom knew I was in a safe area and a safe place. She didn’t have to worry about me acting a fool down here.”
Coward played a handful of positions when he first joined the Sharks roster — forced to line up on both sides of the ball due to low numbers — but there was always something about defense that appealed to him.
He became a standout defensive lineman in his final two seasons at Sheepshead Bay and finished with 31 tackles and three sacks as a senior.
“It’s just fun running around and hitting people,” Coward said. “Just being aggressive. That’s what I love about it.”
Coward still enjoys hitting opposing offenses, but he’s seen his game grow over the last four years as well. It isn’t just about hitting anymore, it’s about understanding schemes and the make up of each play. It’s about becoming a better player each time the ball is snapped.
“When I was in high school I didn’t really see the bigger picture,” Coward said. “I watch film and use my length and my strength now. It’s understanding technique and using it instead of just trying to muscle around.”
Coward started all 12 of the Monarchs’ regular-season games this year and has been a major part of the program’s overhaul the last few seasons.
He was a member of Old Dominion’s biggest recruiting class in 2013 – 38 players set to join the team as it prepped to move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision – and one of the few players who spent his entire four years at the school. Coward never once considered leaving.
“It was all about the competition and my teammates,” he said. “It was easy to stay. The coaches really care about you as a person, not just as an athlete.”
Coward knows he’s grown as a player since he first visited Old Dominion and now he’s ready to showcase that growth on a national stage, looking for one final victory in December.
It’s an opportunity he and the Monarchs didn’t get last season and one Coward is determined not to waste.
“It’s the last game with the team and I’m just excited to play football,” he said. “We can’t get caught up in the Bahamas or the idea of a bowl game, it’s just another football game.”
Coward isn’t certain what the future will hold after the bowl game. He wants to play professional football, has already spoken with coaches about workouts and practice schedules, but first he’s got one final thing left to do — graduate.
His mother may be most proud of that.
“I want to get my degree and then we’ll go from there,” Coward said. “I’m going to finish up my classes and then start training.”