Leading rusher

Junior running back Samari Howard has a team-high 305 yards rushing for Temple, which opens District 12-6A play tonight at Copperas Cove.

Samari Howard’s almost-effortless hurdle of an Arlington Martin defender during the course of a 13-yard pickup might’ve been the second-most appealing part of the junior’s standout performance last week that included a season-high 174 yards rushing, his fourth touchdown of the year and a 2-point pass, to boot.

In the running for No. 1 was Howard’s reaction to reserve wide receiver Jonah Walker’s 73-yard touchdown reception in the waning moments of the Wildcats’ loss to the Warriors. According to Temple head coach Scott Stewart, his star running back was one of the first in line to greet Walker and congratulate him.

“He’s had to overcome some adversity, so it made my heart happy to see him score,” Howard said.

That outward, unprovoked and seemingly genuine display of camaraderie and support adds to Howard’s valuable standing among his peers, who’ve voted him a team captain each of his first two varsity seasons.

“It’s a big priority but a good priority to have. Just knowing everybody is looking at me to be a leader makes me feel good,” Howard said. “I think I set a good example for everybody, a positive example, like no matter what you do, you have to work hard.”

In a way, the constant big-play threat and versatility Howard provides for an offense with no shortage of playmakers become the accessories in the total package.

“Obviously, he can’t do it by himself but if anybody would try, it’d be him. I mean, he is the get-on-my-back-and-let’s-go guy. (He was the) highest voted captain on the team, and that’s because he is who he says he is,” Stewart said. “These kids aren’t stupid. I love the fact that they can see through the fluff and try to discern who the true leaders are. He’s E.F. Hutton. When he talks, people will listen. And that’s a burden that he has to bear. If you’re going to talk, don’t say it and then not show it because people will stop listening quick. He’s never to going to stop showing it.”

Howard showed back in May of 2019 when he was a freshman practicing with the varsity during spring training that what he had to offer — essentially natural talent aided by an established work ethic that stood out because of his young age — elicited a call up.

So the converted quarterback made his debut against Round Rock Cedar Ridge in last year’s season opener and announced his arrival in the form of 254 yards rushing. He closed last season with 966 yards and 13 TDs, and the honor of District 12-6A’s offensive newcomer of the year. His 2020 has picked up steam over the last two weeks, too, posting back-to-back 100-plus yard efforts, while he continues to garner college scouts’ attention.

But trying to get the 5-foot-8, 170-pound junior to wander down the road of personal achievement is usually a fruitless endeavor. To Howard, at the end of four quarters, statistics are just figures on a computer screen. What he envisions taking precedence or being most impactful is the manner in which he goes about obtaining those numbers.

“I don’t really think about yards like that. I just want to play. It’s not even the wins. I’m just happy to be out there representing (Temple). It’s just my passion. It’s just so fun,” Howard said. “It’s something you can’t explain. You can just see it.”

It took Howard some time to see things that clearly.

By his own account, and corroborated by Stewart, Howard struggled as a young adolescent with his temper, often wearing frustrations on his sleeve. He said it continues to be a work in progress but that compared to his ninth-grade year, he’s “chilled” and “mellowed out” and credited his parents, Raymond and DeAnna, and his coaches through the years — specifically Robert York, Rodney Johnson, Jason Hoelscher and Kyle Mosley — for helping guide him.

“The reason I say them is because they’ve been nothing but positive. They want nothing but the best for me. They hold me to a high standard and I know I can fulfill that,” Howard said. “It’s not fun being angry. So, I learned how to cope with it.”

Stewart has certainly observed a world of difference.

“He’s grown exponentially in a very short time with that,” Temple’s fifth-year coach said. “It’s really impressive to watch kids grow up and know that your program affects kids the right way. And, I’m not saying we have anything figured out, but to watch a kid learn to focus, that is part of the maturation process. Part is his parents and I’d like to think a huge part of it, too, is having (coaches) in his life helping.”

Like his Temple idol Jeff Carr (Class of 2015) and former teammate Anthony Jackson (Class of 2020), whom Howard looked up to, he’d like to help the Wildcats (2-1) remain a force with which to be reckoned, starting with a 12-6A opener at 7:30 tonight against host Copperas Cove (1-2).

Temple’s seven-game district slate continues next Friday at home against Bryan and for the next five weeks as the Wildcats are scheduled to play straight through Nov. 27 before an open date the week before the first round of the Class 6A Division II playoffs.

“What motivates me is just knowing what Temple’s background is, knowing I have to live up to that standard. It’s not easy to play in Temple. It’s not easy to be in Temple. But, it’s an honor and I know I have to live up to that in a game, even in the fourth quarter when we’re down. I know what (past players) want and I know the standard,” Howard said.