During his time as a player and assistant coach for the Heath High School football program, Tim Ward was on the field alongside Mark Collier for 145 games.

He’s never put on a headset as a head coach before, but Ward believes he’s ready to replace the man who has been among his greatest mentors.

On May 8, Ward was approved by the board of education to succeed Collier, who stepped down in March.

Collier was the Bulldogs offensive coordinator in 1999 and 2000 and then served as head coach from 2001 through last season.

“I’m extremely excited to take over as the head coach,” Ward said. “(Under Collier) we shared three league titles and three playoff seasons. I look forward to growing the program and trying to increase involvement from players and the community. It’s a dream come true.”

The Bulldogs made the playoffs in 2009, 2010 and last season under Collier.

Last fall, Heath had perhaps the greatest season in program history, winning its first league title since 2001 and posting its first perfect regular season.

The Bulldogs earned the No. 1 seed in Division IV, Region 15 but lost to Duncan Falls Philo 42-7 in the first round of the playoffs as senior quarterback and district Offensive Player of the Year Aaron Latiolais went down with an injury.

Ward, who graduated from Heath in 2001 and played for Wittenberg, has been an assistant at his alma mater the last 12 seasons.

He served as defensive coordinator last year.

“When you’re coming off a 10-1 season like we had last year, it’s obvious that the system works, especially when you have the athletes to run it,” athletics director Ellis Booth said. “Somebody from the outside was really going to have to wow us in order for us to hire them over coach Ward. Coach Ward has been a member of the football staff, he’s a teacher in the building, he’s a Heath grad and a former Heath football player. It was a logical choice considering our recent success.”

Ward’s philosophy of coaching features “integrity, family, school, service, football,” or what he calls the five “building blocks” of a program.

“Last year was the only 10-0 regular season we’ve ever had,” Ward said. “It’s going to be very difficult to follow that up. I believe the next step is trying to build our involvement. We currently have around 50 players each year. I’d like to see that number closer to 60 or 70. Obviously successful seasons increase the number of people wanting to be involved. I want to continue to improve our offseason conditioning.

“As a fairly small, public school, we tend to have up years and down years. I want to try to decrease the number of down years and increase the up years. We’ll use multiple sets and schemes on both offense and defense to put our players in the best situation to be successful.”

Collier isn’t stepping away from coaching altogether. Instead, he was named Brett Green’s successor as girls basketball coach May 8.

The Bulldogs haven’t posted a winning record since going 13-9 in 2012-13. They went 6-16 this past season.

Collier, a Heath graduate who played football at Otterbein, previously coached girls basketball at London in the mid-1990s before returning to his alma mater.

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek