A unanimous decision: Bison assistant glad he chose football over boxing

The basement in Patrick Ward's house in Minneapolis was not a TV room, certainly. It was a training gym for professional fighters, a way he made his living after his career as a professional fighter ended.

Brian Ward
Brian Ward, left, the defensive backs coach for North Dakota State's football team, has helped the Bison secondary dramatically improve from last year's low ranking nationally. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

The basement in Patrick Ward's house in Minneapolis was not a TV room, certainly. It was a training gym for professional fighters, a way he made his living after his career as a professional fighter ended.

It was the family way. Patrick's father was a professional fighter and the genes were passed down to his son. OK, so Brian Ward's professional boxing career lasted one fight, but at least he won and retired undefeated, so to speak.

"I won a four-round decision, collected a $500 paycheck and called it a career," he said.

The career took a different path, football, and the defensive backs coach for North Dakota State will be in Missouri on Saturday trying to get his team into the Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

The Bison have gotten on the playoff doorstep lately by virtue of a defense that has been one of the best in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.


Specifically, the secondary has done 180-degree turn from last season when it was next-to-last in the country in interceptions with three.

There has been some fight in the secondary this season. And that may be by no accident.

"Coach Ward has that fighter mentality and he's pushing us hard," said safety Daniel Eaves.

The defensive backs all know about Ward's boxing days. Freshman Marcus Williams, from Minneapolis, is very familiar with Ward's old neighborhood and the boxing community.

"Coach is a real tough guy and to be a defensive back, you have to have that mentality," Williams said.

Ward had 97 fights as an amateur boxer. He once crossed paths with former world champion and North Dakota native Virgil Hill while training in the Phoenix area.

Hill based his camp at nearby Fountain Hills in getting ready for the Joe Lasisi World Boxing Association light heavyweight title fight. Heavyweight Frank Bruno was also there training for his Mike Tyson fight.

Patrick Ward had connections with Hill's trainer, Freddie Roach, and young Brian got to hang out with the Hill camp for a couple of days.


Boxing was his love, Brian said, but football was his passion. "And there is a difference," he said.

"When you grow up doing something your whole life, you see that boxing is a very lonely sport," he said. "You train alone. You do your road work alone. Boxing is a very stark contrast to the team aspect of football."

So Ward was a football player in college, at McPherson College (Kan.). And his career spawned from there.

By the way, it appears he picked the right profession. It should be noted the opponent in that one pro fight, Thomas Allen, had a career that lasted six fights - all losses.

In football, wins have been the norm. One more at Missouri State on Saturday and NDSU will most likely earn a playoff spot by unanimous decision.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be heard on the

Saturday Morning Sports Show, 9-11 a.m.

on WDAY-AM (970).


He can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack's NDSU media blog can be found


Related Topics: FOOTBALL
Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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