BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Southern quarterback Austin Howard has experienced plenty in his three-plus years, but Friday was a first.
Smartly dressed in a gray suit, Howard represented his university at the Southwestern Athletic Conference media day for the first time.
It’s not unusual for the quarterback to be put in front of the camera, especially Howard, a three-year starter. He’s well-versed in this setting.
That said, he had to wait for his time to truly in the spotlight. With Lenard Tillery and Willie Quinn no longer around to strike fear into defenses, all eyes on Howard, and the wheel is in his hands.
“He’s the elder statesman now, so he’s earned the right to be in control,” said Southern coach Dawson Odums. “He knows we’re going to go as he goes.”
This team, Howard says, is his team. It has been for some time now. He has also, admittedly, had some help.
Up until this point in his career, Howard has been surrounded by strong leadership. Last season, the Jaguars were loaded with seniors on offense in particular.
“I feel like, since I’ve been here, it’s been my team,” Howard said. “I always carry the weight on my shoulders with the help of my senior class.
“I stepped into the leadership role as soon as I got here on campus. I feel like it’s been my team, our team.”
This year, he is the senior. He will not have the likes of Lenard Tillery, Willie Quinn and Anthony Mosley to back him up. His coaches and teammates said he’s ready for that role, in part, because he’s been preparing for it for so long.
“I feel like, by them pushing it on him early, he’s ready for it now,” senior defensive back Danny Johnson said. “It’s his senior year, it’s his last chance to prove himself. … He’s accepted the challenge.”
For the third straight season, Southern was not allowed to participate in a coach-run spring practice. For the second straight season, Howard was part of a group of team leaders to organize practices without the coaches present.
“We’ve been policing ourselves, doing what we need to do,” Howard said, before adding. “It’s not about football all the time.”
In order to properly lead the team, Howard said, he needed to develop more than the timing on the route tree with his receivers.
“We do team-bonding stuff with each other, so we learn about each other’s personal lives instead of just football,” Howard said. “That really helps us with chemistry and bonding.”
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He’s also honed how he communicates with teammates. His junior season was spent developing vocal leadership skills, and he learned from that experiment that he could dial it down a bit with similar results.
“Last year, it was about yelling and screaming, trying to get guys on point,” Howard said. “This year, I found out that being calm and collected is just as important as being fired up.”
Howard certainly has earned the respect of his peers with his play. He tossed 30 touchdowns last season, nearly doubling his career total from his first two seasons.
Only one SWAC player, reigning Offensive Player of the Year Devante Kincade of Grambling, topped Howard’s marks in passing yards (2,650) and passing touchdowns (30).
Odums knows the term can carry negative connotations, but he means it as a compliment when he says Howard performed admirably as a game manager.
The Jaguars need something different from Howard this season, however.
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“I think he can be that playmaker, not only by him making plays, but by pushing other guys to make plays,” Johnson said. “By pushing those guys so hard like he does, they’re going to step up and make plays as well.”
That fit Howard’s own description. He said he tries to be like Michael Jordan and LeBron James, not in terms of being the best individual on a team, but in terms of elevating the performance of those around him.
This, Howard said, is what leaders do.
“I’m just trying to make everyone around me better,” Howard said.