Aca’Cedric Ware hopes to be the featured back for USC

USC tailback Aca’Cedric Ware is looking to have a bigger role in the Trojans’ offense his senior season.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Another game, another box score with little trace of USC running back Aca’Cedric Ware. Ware usually left the Coliseum hungry. Three years, and he still couldn’t seem to escape the shadow of Ronald Jones II, always scraping for leftover touches.

“I’ve always been hard on myself,” Ware said, “‘cause I’ve always felt like I was the best.”

Ware has never been satisfied being behind someone, and he was not even close to catching Jones. So once the games ended, Ware would get in his Dodge Charger and drive to a hotel in downtown Los Angeles, away from football’s frustrations and toward the one thing he could count on — his family.

“Many times he was discouraged,” his mother, Nova Ware, said. “But he had his mom and dad and brother right there … we could always make him feel better.”

Nova Ware would wait with his favorite meal, three chicken pot pies and a chocolate cake. She’d spend an hour and a half making the pies from scratch on a Thursday night, then pick up the homemade cake from Ware’s grandmother before a Friday afternoon flight to Los Angeles from Dallas with Ware’s father, Aca’Cedric Ware Sr., and 14-year-old brother, Adavian.

Three years, every home game, this was routine. As Ware ate, his parents would ignite his determination.

“We’d always tell him to be patient,” Nova Ware said. “Be patient, and stay ready. That’s all you can do … ’Cause when they call, you have to be ready. And be patient, don’t let them see you sweat. Even if you might be sweating, or mad about something, you don’t let them see that.”

Ware’s patience could finally be rewarded. Or he could be on the verge of finishing his career far short of his expectations. With Jones now in the NFL, Ware is competing with Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepeai to be the Trojans’ go-to rusher.

Ware does not see obscurity as an option. He wants to reach the NFL for his love of the game and for his family — to attain financial security for his constant supporters.

“I’ve always said, I’m gonna have my family right, no matter what,” Ware said. “Especially after I’m done with everything, I’m always gonna be there for my family.”

But first, Ware has to prove he can excel at the college level.

While Jones, who was part of the same recruiting class as Ware, rushed for 3,619 yards in three seasons, Ware has 680 yards in 139 carries over the same span. His most yards (397) and carries (78) came in his sophomore season.

Like his parents advised, Ware bided his time. His dreams of going to the NFL after three years in college were moot, but he graduated early anyway. He pored over the playbook and grinded in the weight room.

Last season, Ware fell behind Carr on the depth chart and had only 49 carries. But with Carr missing the spring after back surgery, Ware got a significant amount of work and it carried over into the fall.

“He’s having the best camp of his career,” offensive coordinator Tee Martin said recently. “He’s always been steady, but you’re seeing his hard work starting to pay off.”

Ware did all he could in the offseason. Workouts at Dorsey High to increase his burst, extra weightlifting and food portions to reach 211 pounds, and improvements in areas like pass protection to separate himself from the other backs.

Success won’t come easy, but Ware knows how to get there — hard work. And he is hungry enough to do what it takes. If it comes as a surprise if Ware gets USC’s first carry against Nevada Las Vegas on Saturday, it won’t be to the people who know him best.

My dad always said, ‘God didn’t bring you all the way out here to Cali for nothing. There’s a reason you’re out here.’
Aca’Cedric Ware

Aca'Cedric Ware has twice rushed for more than 100 yards against Arizona, including 122 yards in 14 carries on Nov. 4, 2017.
(Shotgun Spratling / Los Angeles Times)

After all, he has done it before.

Dissatisfied following his sophomore season on the junior varsity team at Cedar Hill High in Texas, Ware wanted a trainer to push him so he could make the varsity. His father heard about Reggie Perkins, who recently had moved to Texas from Miami. The morning after Ware’s last game that season, father and son stood in the doorway at the DeSoto Community Center, watching Perkins conduct his workout, and approached him afterward.

“From that day forth, I was with [Ware] every day of his life until he went to USC,” Perkins said. “Every day.”

Perkins takes an unconventional approach to building bulk — targeting fingers, ankles and toes along with large muscles to improve balance and endurance. In other words, a bench press on a bench will not be necessary. Do it on a stability ball.

“If you could describe hell, that’s what it would be,” said Kevyontae Wade, one of Ware’s best friends who participated in the workouts.

But it worked. A 165-pound Ware started training with Perkins in December. He arrived at the gym at 5 a.m. each day before school, threw up his first week but returned anyway. By April, he weighed 193 pounds.

Aca’Cedric Ware Sr. invested in bringing Ware’s results to others by buying a gym with Perkins. Ware started bringing his friends. Workouts with Perkins entailed 10 to 12 players in the spring — up to 45 in the summers.

But no one was as consistent as Ware. No days off, no complaints. As a high school senior, Ware told Luis Nevarez, a former USC graduate assistant coach involved in Ware’s recruitment, he was excited to celebrate his birthday in the gym, lifting weights with his friends. He graduated as Cedar Hill’s top running back, with two state championships and a full ride to USC.

Cedar Hill coach Joey McGuire had questioned Ware’s commitment to a school with a five-star running back, but Ware wanted to be somewhere with opportunities for life after football, and he saw that in Los Angeles. Besides, he thrived on competition. Before committing, Jones told Ware over Twitter that he liked USC but was on the fence.

“I was like, ‘No, bro, you gotta come out here with me,’ ” Ware said. “ ‘We can really make things happen at SC.’ And, voilà, RoJo came here.”

As Jones became an All-American, Ware grew more restless each game. His last season at USC will be different only if Ware can deliver the excellence he demands of himself.

“Eventually I knew my time was gonna come,” Ware said. “My dad always said, ‘God didn’t bring you all the way out here to Cali for nothing. There’s a reason you’re out here.’ And, you know, I bought in to that … I just started working, working.

“We’re gonna see if my time is here. We’re gonna see.”