From the camp circuit to The Opening, O.J. Howard has showcased his unique skill-set everywhere he's traveled this summer. With just one event left and zero spots left to elevate to considering his current no. 1 ranking, the five-star is enjoying the final weeks before the 2012 season begins.
"It's been pretty cool, everything's been great," he said of claiming the top spot on FOX Spots NEXT. "A lot of people have been happy with my performance and a lot of people are telling me ‘good job' and ‘keep it up.'"
But make no mistake, just because Howard is currently the best tight end in the class of 2013, it doesn't mean he's satisfied with his current skills without room to grow.
"It's something that questions what you really want to do," said the Prattville (Ala.) Autauga Academy standout. "I looked at it as an accomplishment; it was one of my goals to reach though there's a lot more out there that I want on the field. I'm very happy with the number one spot, but I have to work harder to keep that spot."
One area where Howard doesn't have to work as hard is recruiting fellow top-10 tight end Josh McNeil. The Durham (N.C.) Hillside four-star committed to the Crimson Tide last week – making Alabama the only program with a pair of the 10 best tight ends in the class.
"I talked to him at The Opening, he was saying he was going to commit later on…I didn't know where," Howard admitted. "Now he's going to Alabama. It's something we can take, kind of like the [New England] Patriots' (Rob) Gronkowski and (Aaron) Hernandez.
"We can be like those guys. I'm kind of closer to Gronkowski, but I kind of like the role that Hernandez plays."
With the "Tide Towers" nickname already near-viral on social media sites, the elite pair have somewhat changed the future outlook of the UA passing game.
"We can have both of us on the field at the same time and we're a threat," said Howard. "I'm really a tight end-H and he's a tight end-Y, so it's really like a different position. But we can be very dominant on the field at the same time."
The coaching staff at ‘Bama, specifically new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, sold a tweaked scheme to each player on the road to landing the receiving threats.
"They said we're going to use the tight end a lot to create miss-matches in the game, especially in the middle of the field with posts and things like that," said the 6-foot-5, 225-pounder. "The running game opens up a little bit more too, when you have tight ends who make a lot of good plays."
As for what's next for Howard, he will head down to Florida for one more athletic showcase against some of the best competition out there before focusing solely on Autauga's 2012 season.
"I'm playing in Gridiron Kings in Orlando," he said. "This is my last thing, so have fun but it's ‘back to business' when I get back. I'm looking to really improve form a defensive standpoint to be more aggressive. I want to make more plays on defense."
Howard's recruitment has admittedly slowed since he maintains a strong stance with the Tide, but the door seems to not be slammed shut just yet with another national power keeping tabs on him.
"I'm solid to Alabama. I'm going to take my time and then play for Coach (Nick) Saban at Alabama," he re-affirmed. "A couple of months ago I was still looking, but I'm solid because I'm going there. I was going to take a (official) visit to USC, but we'll see.
"I know I'll take one to Alabama, but maybe USC too."
The Trojans nearly got an unofficial visit from Howard while he was in Oregon at The Opening, but it didn't materialize. Instead, the tight end was busy trying to recruit for Alabama. It helped with McNeil, and the focus was shifted to a player on the other side of the ball when he camped in Tuscaloosa last week.
Said Howard, "I worked out one day to run some routes during the camp last weekend. I was talking to Demarcus Walker, him and Tyren Jones. I think Demarcus Walker is going to come to Alabama. I'm looking forward to that."
When asked immediately after is he is predicting a commitment from Walker, Howard replied "Oh yea!" without hesitation.