Hines Ward says ‘Dancing With the Stars’ prep tougher than football

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed March 18, 2011

At the University of Georgia and for 13 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Hines Ward has warded off cornerbacks and caught hundreds of passes on his way to become a decorated two-time Super Bowl champion.

But the wide receiver said prepping for ABC’s popular “Dancing With the Stars,” debuting Mondayfor its 12th incarnation, has been a rougher ride.

""I've never done a dance routine before," he said in an interview earlier this week from Los Angeles, where he was getting ready for another five-hour rehearsal day with his dance partner Kym Johnson. "Remembering all the steps is a challenge. Kym's been my quarterback. We have to go out and synchronize and be as one. Reps! Reps! Reps!"

The toughest part, he said, is learning how to stand up straight and perform with good posture. The problem with football is in that game, “leverage is about staying low to the ground.”

As an athlete, Ward has an obvious advantage over most of his competitors, which include former "Karate Kid" star Ralph Macchio, "Cheers" alum Kirstie Alley, and talk-show host Wendy Williams.

Ward is already in shape and is used to intense practice and conditioning. And so far, the track record of NFL players is excellent. Three have finished in the top two: Jerry Rice, Warren Sapp and Emmitt Smith, who won season three.

Ward's dance partner, Johnson, is also a previous winner, helping Donny Osmond take home the mirror-ball trophy in the fall of 2009.

Johnson, in a blog for OK! Magazine, said Ward’s’ primary weakness is he tends to over-analyze things. “That’s the athlete in him,” she wrote. “He’s very visual and is good at correcting his mistakes.”

Ward acknowledges that he’s a “perfectionist.” “I need to relax a little more,” he said.

Early audition footage released by ABC shows Ward clearly has promise:

For now, he's purposely avoiding talking to former participants from the NFL like Chad Ochocinco. "I don't want to hear the horror stories," he said. "I just want to go in blind and enjoy every moment of it." But being a good athlete, he has done his fair share of prep work, reviewing tapes from past shows like he does in football.

And his own competitive drive fuels his need to succeed. “I’m always asking her to push me more,” Ward said. “Let me try to catch up. I want a hard routine. I just hope it comes together and we put on a good show.”

He and Johnson spent a couple of weeks prepping at a dance studio in Roswell before moving his home base earlier this month temporarily to Los Angeles, where the show is shot.

Despite his long-time ties to Pittsburgh, he has chosen to live in Atlanta because he grew up here and besides, “I don’t particularly like cold weather.”

Ward's former University of Georgia football coach Jim Donnan is confident he'll do well.

“Good chance he will win,” Donnan wrote in an email. “Just like everything else he does, he will be very crowd friendly with his personality and genuine approach. As to how good a dancer he will be, I can’t tell you. End-zone dances are prohibited in college!”

For now, “Dancing With the Stars” is distracting Ward from the NFL lock-out, which is threatening the upcoming football season.

“Things are looking gloomy,” Ward said. “I’m prepared for the worst. Everyone is in limbo. It’s sad to see.”

For him, it comes down to owners’ “greed.”

Ward feels retired players should get more health insurance: “We want to play and we’ll sacrifice something, but we won’t sacrifice our health. We almost feel used.”

On TV

“Dancing With the Stars,” 8 p.m. Monday on ABC for two-hour 12th season debut. No results show week one. First Tuesday results show will be at 9 p.m. Tuesday March 29.