Opportunity knocked and Howard was ready

By D. Scott Fritchen

Pictures are everywhere. They are at a number of different angles. They all capture the 21-year-old at the current peak of his journey – a purple number 18 jersey, a wide-open mouth that nearly closes his eyes, sweaty brown hair and his right arm stretched high above his head. fist. He is on the shoulders of his teammates and Kansas State students as they all celebrate and is paraded around the football field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. These are the things you dream about, the things few people get to experience, and right now it is Will Howarda backup quarterback who soaked it all in after a long journey.

Howard is a humble man — “I don’t like the spotlight on me or anything,” he says — but he trusts the heavens after one of the greatest victories in K-State football history, which dates back to 1896. 22n.dThe Wildcats beat No. 9 Oklahoma State, 48-0, the largest shutout win by a lower ranked team over an AP Top-1o team. The Associated Press began its college football poll in 1936, and yes, we’re reeling from how utterly ridiculously good Howard and the Wildcats were in a Homecoming Game unlike any other, how the Purple faithful screamed and screamed even more, and how Howard so confidently marched the offense down the field and the Wildcats never took their foot off the gas.

“There’s nothing scarier in sports than a man with nothing to lose,” senior wide receiver Where is Warner Howard said before kickoff.

And Howard, it seems, is just warming up.

“There’s so much more we can do,” Howard says, “and to me it’s scary.”

The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Howard is a junior who we first met on Feb. 6, 2020, in the team’s meeting room at the Vanier Family Football Complex. Howard arrived midway through his senior year from Downingtown (Pa.) High School, where he left as 19.ThursdayThe 247Sports-rated pro-style quarterback and Maxwell Football Club Pennsylvania Player of the Year finished his career with 5,308 passing yards and 48 touchdowns, along with 512 rushing yards and 12 scores.

He was the highest rated high school pro quarterback to sign with K-State since Josh Freeman in 2006.

“I want to play and win championships,” Howard told us. “That’s what I want to do.

At age 17, Howard has played in nine games with starts in each of the last seven games in injury relief Skylar Thompson in 2020, he will become one of only four true freshmen in the FBS to make at least seven starts during the season. He threw for 1,178 yards and eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions and faced immense derision. Last season, Howard once again filled in for the injured Thompson. This time he played in six games with three starts and 332 yards and one touchdown and one interception.

“All the things he’s been through have prepared him for this moment,” the K-State head coach said Chris Klieman he says after the Wildcats’ biggest win over a top-10 opponent in school history.

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The question all week was whether senior transfer quarterback Adrian Martinez would be available to play after one of the most electrifying quarterbacks in the Big 12 Conference could only manage the first drive of the Wildcats’ 38-28 loss at No. 8 TCU. to leg injury. As it turned out, Martinez wasn’t feeling 100% before kickoff against Oklahoma State, and Klieman and offensive coordinator Collin Klein nod to Howard, who led the Wildcats to four touchdowns on four consecutive possessions against the Horned Frogs.

“I’ve seen nothing but confidence grow in Will since the spring,” Klieman says. “You have to realize he was No. 1 in the spring, so he took all the reps with the Nos. Then in fall camp we started mixing those reps with Adrian. But Will is such a confident guy.”

Here’s what Howard did against Oklahoma State: He completed 21 of 37 passes for 296 yards and four touchdowns — tying the school record for touchdown passes in a game and tied for the second-most touchdown passes this season by a Big 12 quarterback. Howard whizzed through the 50- 50 balls Malik Knowles, Where is Warner and Phillip Brooks, allowing them to play against man-to-man coverage. He hit Warner with a 38-yard touchdown pass on fourth down, found Brooks for a 31-yard score and connected with Warner for a 41-yard catch-and-run score. Meanwhile, Knowles had his best game yet with eight catches for 113 yards.

Howard also hit the running back Deuce Vaughn with a 1-yard touchdown pass for a 35-0 lead with 7 seconds left in the first half.

“Whenever he’s in the huddle, man, just the command and confidence he has just from being in this offense for three years, you learn a lot,” said Vaughn, who rushed for 158 yards on 22 carries and one touchdown. . “Now I get to the part, man, he’s super confident and super relaxed.

“I’m so proud of him. I love him to death. I’m so excited for his future and the future of this team. It’s going to be a fun year.”

It all started with a direct message on Twitter to K-State offensive line coach Connor Riley in April 2019. Howard noticed that the coach was following him on the social media platform, and with a few clicks on the Internet, discovered that K-State might be in the market for the signal-caller of the future . So Howard made Riley film of his football highlights to see if he would bite.

Howard learned that Klieman, who previously led North Dakota State to four FCS national championships, coached Howard’s favorite NFL player, Carson Wentz, who went to the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2016 NFL Draft. Howard also carried NFL aspirations.

Imagine Howard’s delight when Riley responded to his direct message on Twitter. Riley and Klein called Howard. The following day, Klieman offered Howard a scholarship.

And now here’s Howard, on the shoulders of teammates and students after a long, long journey.

“I finished doing a TV interview and all of a sudden I stood up and I was like, ‘What’s going on?'” Howard says. “It was kind of funny. That was really cool. That’s something I’ll cherish forever.”

Rewind to just before 2:30 p.m., before kickoff, and Howard just had a hunch the Wildcats might be in for a good day. He walked around the locker room, punched each player and said, “I’m playing for all of you guys.” That’s when Vaughn knew Howard would start at quarterback.

“Right then and there,” Vaughn says, “you saw the type of game he was going to have.”

Teammates reciprocated Howard’s trust.

“You just looked around,” Howard says. “You see that look in everyone’s eyes, and everyone had that look today — ‘We’re not going to stop until the clock strikes zero.’ We kept our foot on the gas and that’s what we did. It was a great match.’

The plan was for Howard to redshirt this season as Martinez took over the reins of the Wildcats offense during his season with the team. Howard has had limited reps with the first-team offense for most of this season. That all changed last week as Martinez’s status remained unclear. Howard was ready.

“I’m for the team and whatever happens, happens,” Howard says, “and I don’t know what (the injury) is with Adrian and what’s going on, so I think we’ll take it to Dob one day.”

In an age where quarterbacks are transferring at an alarming rate, Howard remained committed to K-State. His journey is not over yet.

“I love the guys in the locker room,” Howard says. “I said it on the field after the game, the reason I’m still here is because of the guys in that locker room, because of the relationship I made with them and because of the bonds I have with the guys on both sides. sides of the ball.

“We have a special locker room and a special culture here, and it’s going to be better in the future. Coach Klieman is a great coach and he’s inspiring. He said, ‘This is a player-led team, this is your team, and you take care of it.’

“And we did.

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K-State’s historic win moved the Wildcats to No. 13 in the AP Top 25 poll. K-State, 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the Big 12, has another big game against 5-3 Texas in Saturday’s kickoff in Manhattan at 6 p.m. and 3-2.

“We have a lot of great talent and the nice thing is that we didn’t play our best game,” Howard says. “That’s still ahead of us.”

As Howard descends from the purple cloud of teammates and students, after pumping his fist into the cool Manhattan sky, he finds his mother, Maureen, on the field.

She screams, overcome with emotion, well aware of her son’s journey over the past few years and after witnessing this monumental moment in her son’s life.

After leading K-State to one of its biggest victories in school history, after furiously setting up the Wildcats’ offense, and after a TV interview and impromptu crowd surfing, Howard descends onto the football field to find his mother waiting for him.

Son hugs mother.

“I got to hug my mom on the field,” Howard says. “That meant the world to me.

It’s the perfect ending to a perfect night.


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