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HE'S AS HUMBLE AS THEY COME

How have you settled into Tampa, which is a small town compared to where you've lived (New York and Los Angeles)?

It's a lot slower than what I'm used to growing up in L.A. and living in New York for the last five years. I'm still trying to get used to the weather and the humidity. And in New York, there's so many people. The other day, I'm standing in line at the grocery store, and someone came up to me and said, "You're Derrick Ward, right?" In New York, you really don't get that.

Speaking of the grocery store, did you ever picture yourself being in the supermarket tabloids before recently (he was rumored to be in a relationship with reality TV star Khloe Kardashian)?

I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd be in there. I guess you just have to roll with it. It's kind of funny to me to be standing in line and look at those magazines and see that I'm in it. I've actually had that happen. It's just for fun, I guess. It gives my family something to talk about. My teammates get on me about it. Even Raheem (Morris) gets on me about it. They ask me, "Hey, how's your girl Khloe doing?"

This is a question we ask weekly: What do you play the most on your iPod?

I'm a big R&B fan. I listen to rap from time to time, but I really like R&B, especially the '80s and early '90s R&B. But I like Jay-Z and all that, too.

The other weekly question: What Web site do you visit the most?

Probably Facebook. I had to delete a lot of people, though. Right now, I have about 700 friends, but I was up to close to 4,000. It was getting a little overwhelming for me.

So, would people write crazy stuff on your page?

Yes. I was reading it the other day and some kid from New Jersey who I guess dislikes me wrote, "Yo, you got cut from the Giants because nobody wanted you!" Everybody on my page who knows me was arguing with him defending me. I didn't get that memo that I had gotten cut by the Giants.

I don't want to go all 60 Minuteson you, but you saw a lot of violence growing up. How did that shape you?

It's humbled me. Growing up in South Central L.A., you see a lot of stuff growing up, especially in the late '80s and '90s. That was during the riots and all the gang activity. But it taught me to become a better person, and that's why I am who I am today. I could have very easily been a victim. And there was a time or two where I almost was. ... It's really a blessing that I'm even here right now talking to you.

Did you realize even then how senseless the violence was?

You learn at an early age out there that it's senseless. It's people killing each other over the dumbest of things. We look at all the crazy stuff that happens overseas, but, really, there's a lot of things going on in America that we don't even think about. But it's pretty much stupid.

You actually did join a gang at one point, right?

I did. That's all I knew. I grew up around it. My cousins, family, friends - they were all gangbanging. It was a way of life. But I was able to come out of that and achieve everything I've achieved. That's brought a lot of pride to my family because nobody expected me to live past 21. I wake up every morning like, "Man, I went from drive-bys and murders to living in a 6,000-square-foot house." I never take it for granted.

On a different note, when you worked on the Friends set during college, I understand you got to meet the cast members? Tell me about Jennifer Aniston.

She's great, actually. She was very nice and down to earth. It's not like what you might think about from an actress, like someone who is high-maintenance. They were there to work just like you and me.

Were there some perks?

It was good money, but it was long hours. There were like 16-hour days. There were some perks, but one of my (duties) was binding 300 scripts at the end of the day from like 10 p.m. to about 2 a.m. Then, I'd have to deliver them to the cast members' houses in the middle of the night so they could read it first thing in the morning. But I got to hang out with Brad Pitt once, though. He and Jennifer were married then, and he told me to come in and have a seat. So, I'm sitting in the house chilling with Brad Pitt. That was cool, man.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

Derrick Ward never thought he'd be in a supermarket tabloid, but it happened. Then again, he wasn't sure he'd see his 21st birthday, either.

Fast facts

Derrick Ward

Position: Running back

Height, weight: 5-11, 228 pounds

Age: 29

College: At Ottawa (Kan.) set NAIA single-season record with 2,061 rushing yards; started at Fresno State as freshman All-American but had academic and injury problems.

Pro: Acquired in free agency in March; rushed for a career-high 1,025 yards for Giants in 2008; seventh-round pick of Jets in 2004.

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