College Spotlight: Howard’s persistence pays off at Army
Not many athletes have the patience and the persistence to wait patiently for an opportunity they have long desired. AJ Howard has proved to be the example for ‘hard work pays off,’ though it hasn’t exactly been easy.
“It was indeed a humbling experience,” says Howard on waiting on Army to make him a key player. “Coming from high school, where you are used to being the ‘go-to guy’ for plays, to learning the opposite side of the spectrum is surreal and really humbles any athlete. I was fortunate to get to dress a little freshman year, which made me just as determined to remain focused and keep grinding for better days…which eventually came!”
Now the Stephens County 2017 product is paying dividends to Army, as he has 99 yards rushing and 40 receiving on 21 touches. He also has 28 kick return yards and 2 total TDs, the first of which came this season against Georgia State.
“Scoring at Georgia state was incredible,” exclaims Howard. “No better feeling in the world honestly. Being able to score my first touchdown and do it in my home state was just amazing. The OC (Coach Davis) came running up to me after the game and embraced me and was like ‘super proud of you and glad you got to do it for your family in person right here back at home.’ It was amazing!!! From the time the play was called, I knew that it was likely going to be congested on the boundary, but I was determined to get in the end zone. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I wasn’t going to miss it. I was fortunate to have almost 40 family and friends there. I wouldn’t disappoint them again without a win and definitely without a TD if the opportunity presented itself.”
Army – and any of the military branches in the United States for that matter – do a great job of teaching young men and women more than just about success on the field.
“The best lesson I learned is to keep working,” states Howard. “Even when you think you’ve done ‘great’ at something, someone is always getting better and outdoing your best. Your best is simply not good enough. Most people we play on Saturdays are on scholarship and competing to maintain that role of playing. You always have to work to continuously reflect and improve at your game.”
Howard, who did see field time as a sophomore in 2019 and a little more as a junior in 2020 (75 rush yds, 6 rec yds), is now a senior and knows that his future possibilities are endless.
“After this year at Army, I will graduate and commission into the Army as a 2nd Lieutenant,” says Howard of his plans. “I’m unsure of my exact job at this moment, but hopefully, I’m optimistic that I will be working in the Intelligence community of the Army.”
No matter what the future holds for Howard, he knows the level of pride that comes with playing for and devoting his life to Army.
“The feeling of putting on a jersey on a Saturday and running out with a team full of fans is a surreal moment,” adds Howard. “As a kid, I used to dream of times like these, and now I’m living it. It just doesn’t get much better than that. I will say that putting on a jersey on Saturdays comes at a price. There were a lot of sacrifices and support before my time here. I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in today if it wasn’t for my teammates in high school who always pushed me and allowed the Indians to be victorious on Fridays. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the embracing arms of Toccoa-Stephens County to continue to mold me into the man I am today and keep me on the right track in all aspects of life. I could go on for days thanking people because it truly took a village to allow me to get to where I’m today. I’m forever in debt to my hometown and my supporters for never giving up on me and constantly pushing me for more even when I couldn’t find it in myself. Being able to go out and represent America’s team on Saturdays is an unbelievable and honoring experience. It’s incredible to get to play on the big stage and represent the nation at the same time…It’s truly been a win/win on all accounts.”
Howard, who obviously doesn’t forget to look back, is quick to provide encouragement to other athletes who are putting in the work and have yet to see it come to fruition.
“My best advice for an high school kid would be to always reach for the stars,” says Howard. “You can accomplish any and everything you set your mind on. Adversity will come and likely throw big punches your way, but have faith and trust the process. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon and you must KEEP GOING! For all those feeling like their hard work is unnoticed, keep pushing. The right people may not have found you yet, but your hard work will not go in vain once the opportunity does present itself and you’re ready to go. Always be prepared to go when your number is called. I’m living proof of that.”
Howard to date has over 325 total yards and 2 TD to his credit while playing for Army. At Stephens County, he was a vital leader on a team that in his four years won 29 games, made the playoffs every season, and made a second round appearance. Howard had over 1,500 career rushing yards for the Indians.
College Spotlight Framed Print (11×17) – AJ Howard
College Spotlight Framed Print (11×17) – AJ Howard