Howard

Temple’s Samari Howard burst onto the varsity scene last week, rushing for 254 yards. He and the Wildcats are back at it tonight.

Samari Howard has grown up understanding the principles of hard work, discipline and expectations. Maybe that comes from within. Perhaps it’s the product of his father, Raymond, serving in the U.S. Army and the example he and Howard’s mother, DeAnna, established. It’s probably a combination of both.

“They really coached me up on it. They’re big role models in our house,” Howard said. “I can’t thank them enough.”

In Howard’s varsity debut for the Temple Wildcats, the 5-foot-8, 165-pound sophomore running back saw his hard work and dedication pay off in the form of 25 carries for 254 yards and a touchdown in last Friday’s season-opening 35-29 loss at Round Rock Cedar Ridge.

Howard’s positive personal performance and his team’s negative result left him with conflicting emotions during the bus ride home.

“I was just like, ‘That’s a lot,’” Howard said of learning his yardage total. “The emotion was great. After all those carries I was thanking my offensive line and praising them, because that performance wouldn’t have been done without them. But I was kind of down, because it would’ve been better if we had won. People who didn’t do as well were down. I was trying to uplift them.”

Howard dealt with losing a fumble that led to a first-quarter touchdown for a 21-7 Cedar Ridge lead and was among Temple’s six turnovers.

“It got a little loose away from my body and they punched it out,” he said. “After that, I said, ‘I’m going to have plenty more fumbles. It’s going to happen. You’ve just got to worry about the next carry.’”

Temple’s next game is its home opener at 7:30 tonight under Wildcat Stadium’s new lights against the Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon Tigres (0-1) from Monterrey, Mexico. The Wildcats begin District 12-6A action at Harker Heights next Friday.

Many things about Howard impress Temple coach Scott Stewart. The most important is his capacity and willingness to work.

“Samari works so hard for a young kid. He practices hard, lifts hard. He’s just driven,” Stewart said of Howard, who turns 16 next Wednesday. “He gets the ‘why’ more than most sophomores. You don’t have to ask him to work hard. He walks in the door pre-motivated. He’s an old soul.

“After the game he said, ‘I’ve got a lot of work to do, Coach. I can’t be fumbling the ball.’ I was like, ‘Man, that’s impressive.’”

Howard earned a prestigious honor Wednesday when Stewart announced he’d been voted a team captain — rare for a sophomore — along with seniors Anthony Jackson, Roman Jackson, Quentin Johnston, Dakari White, DaMarco Williams, Dayton Lewis and Coryell Fillmore and junior Luke Allen.

Howard was prominent in Temple’s plans after shining in the Blue-White spring game, and his workload increased because star senior running back Anthony Jackson missed the opener with a lingering right hamstring injury. The Wildcats rushed 50 times for 381 yards against Cedar Ridge. Howard supplied half their carries and two-thirds of their yardage.

“He started running the ball more because we were tired of throwing interceptions,” Stewart said. “We really didn’t change the tune. Whoever’s in there is the starter. Without adding extra pressure — which I think (Howard) can handle — we said, ‘It’s going to be you and (junior) Ky’Juan (Pugh) rolling it instead of you and Anthony.’”

Blending cutting ability and power, Howard dashed off right tackle for a 39-yard gain midway through the first quarter and followed a similar path on a 57-yard burst beginning the third. He added gains of 21, 17, 15 (a third-quarter touchdown) and 13 yards and produced 16 rushes of 6-plus yards. But perhaps the most impressive thing Howard did was avoiding negative yardage on all 25 carries.

“What he is is a 165-pound bowling ball. You don’t think he’s bringing it like he does, but he’s got phenomenal pad level and runs downhill,” said Stewart, who compares Howard to Jeff Carr, Temple’s speedy, prolific running back from 2013-14. “He’s got a good full-speed jump cut and does this little hop move and gets back to full speed quick.

“There’s a lot of similarities with Jeff. Samari’s five-step burst is every bit as good. We spend a lot of time on speed development and I think that’s coming.”

Anthony Jackson practiced well enough Thursday that Stewart said it’ll be “a game-time decision” whether he plays tonight. Howard highly anticipates when he and Jackson (15 touchdowns in 2018) form a potent rushing tandem like Temple’s 2013-18 squads employed with outstanding results.

“It’s going to be really dangerous,” Howard said. “Once Anthony gets rolling and I get rolling, it’s not going to stop.”

Howard’s past was at quarterback. He played that position at Lamar Middle School and as a freshman, then during the spring game he took a handoff and completed a 28-yard pass. But with senior Vance Willis playing QB this season and many viable candidates returning next year, Howard might already be in his permanent spot and he’s agreeable with that.

“He’s a running back until further notice,” Stewart said. “He goes to one period a day to make sure he knows what the quarterbacks do, just in case it absolutely hits the fan.”

Howard also runs relays in track and competes in powerlifting. His commitment to Temple’s weight training program is paying major dividends.

“You have to be invested, because that weight room is not a joke at all,” Howard said, smiling. “I had to figure that out the first week in there. The time and effort increases a lot.”

Howard was born on Fort Hood, relocated to Oklahoma when his father (now retired) transferred to Fort Sill and moved to Temple around age 7. That military family lifestyle has helped shape him.

“It was tolerable,” he said. “Sometimes I just wanted to be a kid, but I was going to have to grow up somehow.”

Stewart immediately noticed Howard’s unique demeanor.

“What stuck out was that he wasn’t goofy. He was more stoic than most middle schoolers and freshmen,” Stewart said. “He’s just about business. He doesn’t screw around in the locker room. I’d probably like for him to loosen up a little.”

Howard aspires to break Lache Seastrunk’s Temple career rushing record (4,217 yards from 2007-09) and make at least one deep playoff march similar to the Wildcats’ lengthy 2014-17 treks.

Said Howard: “My parents and Coach Stewart tell me, ‘Be humble and stay true to yourself. Don’t let the hype get to you.’”