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Denzel Ward puts heart into camp in more ways than one

BEDFORD — The youth football camp hosted by Denzel Ward starts with a lesson more valuable than how to backpedal or proper catching technique.

“We showed them how to do CPR and AED,” Ward, the Browns’ three-time Pro Bowl cornerback, told The Chronicle-Telegram at the event last week. “So continue to spread heart health awareness, but doing it in a fun way.”

The free camp attended by more than 300 kids at Bedford High School was hosted by Ward and his family’s Make Them Know Your Name Foundation. The foundation was formed in 2019 in honor of Ward’s father, Paul Jr., who died at 46 years old of cardiac arrest while in a spin class.

The mission of the foundation is to help prevent heart-related fatalities in communities across the nation by providing educational resources. Its reach has extended over the last five years.

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“It’s been huge. It’s grown a tremendous amount,” Ward said. “So it’s just a big credit to my team, to my mom, to the MTKYN team because from where we started to where we are now, it’s definitely a huge difference.”

The availability of automated external defibrillators, and the training to use them, is critical to saving people who go into cardiac arrest. The foundation has helped train 25,000 people on CPR and AEDs and Ward has seen an increase in the number of AEDs at schools and other community facilities in recent years.

A blinding spotlight was placed on the issue when Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field in Cincinnati after a collision during a Monday night game in 2022. He suffered commotio cordis, leading to cardiac arrest and needed on-field CPR and subsequent treatment to save his life.

He recovered and played last season.

Ward said the event and the vast media coverage it received raised the profile of MTKYN. The foundation had nearly 100 requests for AEDs in 2023, 10 times more than the previous year.

“Just showing the importance of heart health and just how serious it is,” he said. “Everyone’s seen it on the big stage, sadly what had happened to Damar on the field and happy that he was able to recover from that situation. But I think that just shows how important heart health is and learning to eat healthy, stay healthy, work out, and just building that awareness.”

The Hamlin incident brought up terrible memories for Nicole Ward, Denzel’s mom.

“I was at a loss for words,” she told News 5. “All I could do is pray.

“A lot of times this condition happened to kids that are healthy, just like Damar and Denzel, and there’s no signs and warnings for a lot of other athletes. There’s no age attached to sudden cardiac arrest.”

MTKYN is part of the NFL Smart Heart Sports Coalition working to pass AED legislation in Ohio and other states. Denzel and Nicol appeared at the statehouse this year to support bipartisan House Bill 47.

The foundation donates AEDs several times a year and after every Browns win and has committed money to University Hospitals’ AED in 3 challenge that puts them in area schools. Ward is the Browns spokesman for the campaign.

The foundation has partnered with the American Heart Association to donate CPR kits in schools, and the Ward family did an on-stage CPR demonstration during an event at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. The foundation also makes consistent donations based on need and tries to bridge the gap in survival rates of minorities.

“I think it’s had a huge impact,” Ward said. “We’ve done various things in the community from football camps to paying for people’s rent during COVID, just having various events just to bring the community together and bring people together to have a good time and enjoy themselves.”

Ward is a Northeast Ohio native and went to Nordonia High School and Ohio State. His first youth camp when he was a rookie was free and so was the latest.

“The biggest thing is it is not about money for me,” Ward said. “I was one of these little kids, I grew up in this city and I didn’t want parents to have to worry about, ‘oh, man, I can’t pay to get my kid here.’ So I just wanted kids to be able to freely come and enjoy themselves and parents be able to have the opportunity to come and experience it at this level.”

The camp has drills designed to mimic those at the NFL scouting combine. It provides instruction, jerseys and hydration.

“So it’s just an opportunity for kids to come out, have a good time, work out,” Ward said. “We’re sending them through various drills similar to the NFL combine, just to show them how it is at the next level, getting them prepared for the next level and those drills and just teaching heart health awareness.”

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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