MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Eric Ward caught 166 passes and 23 touchdowns the past two years, but his biggest and best reception came in December.
Texas Tech hired Kliff Kingsbury as its head coach and Ward decided he didn't need to stay in the NFL draft. The Red Raiders receiver made up his mind to stay in school for his senior season and pursue both a master's degree and the school record for receptions by a receiver.
"I knew the offense was going to be good with him, so that wasn't a part of it - that was the part of it," Ward said. "If you've got a coach that's going to run the ball, me being a receiver, why would I want to go back to school? If we're going to run the ball, that's going to hurt me. I don't want to run the ball. I'm a receiver, right?"
Kingsbury brought his version of the Air Raid offense he coached at Texas A&M and Houston after a brief career as an NFL quarterback followed his time at Texas Tech from 1998-2002. For most of his time as a player, Kingsbury threw passes to receivers coached by Dana Holgorsen, who was a Texas Tech assistant from 2000-07.
Assistants together under Kevin Sumlin at Houston, Holgorsen and Kingsbury reunite in Saturday's game (noon, Fox Sports 1) at Mountaineer Field. No. 16 Texas Tech (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) is No. 3 nationally in passing offense and No. 6 in total offense.
"He coached the Heisman Trophy winner," Ward said of Kingsbury, who was the quarterbacks coach at Texas A&M in 2012 and witnessed Johnny Manziel's ascent. "What's not exciting about that? The offense has been successful everywhere he's been before, so why wouldn't you want to be a part of that?
"I waited on that because why would you make that decision before when you don't know who the coach is going to be? If they'd hired a triple option guy and you asked me if I was coming back to school, I'd be like, 'What?' "
The feedback Ward received from the NFL before April's draft told him he was between a third- and fifth-round pick. The 6-foot, 205-pound Ward has 34 receptions for 404 yards and three touchdowns this season and needs 54 receptions to break Wes Welker's school mark of 259 career catches.
Ward's stats have been thinned slightly as the Red Raiders broaden their offensive options. Jace Amaro, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound inside receiver who caught five passes for 156 yards and a score in last season's 49-14 win against the Mountaineers, has 606 yards on 47 receptions. Jakeem Grant, another inside receiver who is Amaro's complete opposite at 5-6 and 160 pounds, has 30 receptions for 394 yards and three touchdowns.
Ward knew this was coming. He predicted something similar at the Big 12 media days in July.
"Have you ever seen Jace? He's humongous," he said. "Jace and I are going to tear it up. Then you've got Jakeem, who's more of the Tavon Austin character. We're going to surprise a lot of people. We always do at Tech. We're always under the radar.
"We don't care where we're voted. You can quote me on that. We don't care where we're voted. We're going to play football and show people what we can do."