Hines Ward stars at Apple Blossom Sports Breakfast

Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, this year's Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival Sports Parade marshal, addresses the crowd at the Partlow Insurance Sports Breakfast on Saturday morning at the Winchester Moose Lodge. Brad Fauber/Daily

WINCHESTER – Hines Ward has shifted his career path from the football field to the television screen since retiring from the NFL after 14 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2012. His latest gig as a sports contributor with HLN’s “Morning Express with Robin Meade” not only gives Ward the chance to keep building his television presence, but it allows him continue the behind-the-scenes work that he’s made his passion.

That includes the active charity work that he’s put so much time into since he first arrived in Pittsburgh as a rookie in 1998, and the effort that goes into running his own restaurant in the Steel City. And on Saturday that included his appearance as the sports marshal for the 90th Annual Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival.

“I’m very thankful, very blessed and it gives me a chance to be able to do a lot of different things like this,” Ward said of his current role with CNN shortly before addressing a sold-out crowd as the featured speaker at the Partlow Insurance Sports Breakfast on Saturday morning.

“It’s just great to see a community come together and just have something (like Apple Blossom). … I wish I had a community like this where we had something, a signature event we had and all the kids, the youth, they participate in and they’re always around. You never forget where you come from, that’s how my mom always raised me, so being a part of this today, I’m honored to be here and seeing all the black and gold just makes it all worth its while.”

A large contingent of fans clad in Steelers attire greeted the former Pittsburgh receiver with a large ovation during the Sports Breakfast, held at the Winchester Moose Lodge, and Ward treated those in attendance to a 16-minute speech that he highlighted with three main points: setting goals, executing the game plan and having a backup plan.

Ward, who emphasized the importance of hard work and stressed the importance of keeping in touch with your roots while pursuing your dreams during his speech, spoke directly at times to a group of local student-athletes who were honored for their athletic and academic accomplishments at the start of the event. That group included Sherando High School’s John Borst, Clarke County’s Bayne Gordon, James Wood’s Aaron Black, John Handley’s Mya Mintschenko, Millbrook’s P.K. Kier, Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy’s Eldar Hotic, Mountain View Christian Academy’s Kolton Anderson, Legacy Christian Academy’s Cody Robertson and Shenandoah University’s Stephen Latona.

“To be in a position that people are actually still cheering for me and I still can somehow impact the youth and stuff like that, man, I’m so blessed and honored,” Ward said before the start of the breakfast. “Coming here today I got a chance to talk to some of the high schoolers who are on their way to embark on their college career. … I’ve been in their shoes so I wish I had someone who had kind of been where I wanted to go come back and get a chance to interact and just ask that person questions. … I’m glad to be here and glad that they even invited me, so I must be doing something good.”

A fan-favorite in Pittsburgh, Ward won two Super Bowls with the Steelers and was named the MVP of Super Bowl XL in 2005. He retired following the 2011 season as the franchise’s all-time leader in total receptions (1,000), receiving yards (12,083) and receiving touchdowns (85), and ranks eighth and 18th on the NFL’s all-time list in receptions and receiving yards, respectively.

Ward had six career 1,000-yard seasons, including four straight from 2001-2004, and was a four-time Pro Bowl selection.

However, all of Ward’s on-field achievements may be eclipsed, he joked, by his winning performance in the reality television series “Dancing with the Stars” in 2011.

“I’m probably more famous from Dancing with the Stars than I am for 14 years of playing in the NFL,” Ward said with a laugh. “But you know, I have a great story. Nothing was ever given for me and I haven’t forgot where I came from. I’m always humble. I always treat people like I wanna be treated. So to still be asked to come do certain events like this now that I’m five years removed from the game, I must’ve did something right. I did it the right way and fans, they still support me no matter what I do.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com