"Oh, I had no idea what was going on," recalled Howard. "I felt really weird out there for much of my first year. I was trying to learn as much as I could, but I wasn't close to being ready. I've had to really work hard to get where I'm at right now."
Although Howard had little idea of what it took in regards to technique and all the other little nuances involved with playing corner, he did possess a foundation that coaches knew they could build upon. Howard has one of the quickest - if not the quickest - sets of feet on the team.
"Yeah, I can dance, that's for sure," acknowledged Howard. "I've always been light on my feet and I can run with anyone. It's just learning how to use my feet to get me in the right position that I needed to learn."
Throughout his first season Howard worked hard. He went through drills, watched film and listened to every piece of advice given to him by then-cornerback coach Brian Mitchell, and it was coming slowly. With Coach Mitchell, Howard felt that he learned a lot, but it wasn't coming fast enough.
"Coach Mitchell is a great guy and I learned a ton from him," said Howard. "He was a great guy and I was really nervous when he left for Texas Tech, but hey, we got Coach Hill now, and man, I'll tell you what, he knows what he's doing."
Indeed, Coach Hill brought in a totally different zone-based system that the Cougar cornerbacks were able to thrive within. In addition to Hill introducing that zone-heavy system, Howard said he feels that Hill has really pushed and accelerated his progress, helping him become a Division I-quality cornerback.
"[Coach Hills] came in and really started me from scratch," related Howard. "He taught me technique-things that I had no idea about, stuff that seems like small things, but if you learn them effectively they help out a ton."
Indeed, Coach Hill considered it a badge of honor to take a walk-on secondary and forming it into one of the better pass defenses in the country a season ago.
"He's just the best coach I could imagine ever having," said Howard. "Everything he says, everything he teaches works. The only times we screw up is when we don't do what he says. I don't know how he does it, but seriously, he's always right."
The quick feet that Howard possesses are only so good, because while they work to lead him to where he needs to be on the field, they don't help him know where he needs to be. Through coaching and hard work, Howard has learned to be where he needs to be on the field and is able to get there quicker due to his great set of feet.
"Great feet only get you so far," said Howard. "If you don't know where to go with your quick feet, then it might be worse since you can get out of position faster than most guys. Fortunately I've learned good technique to go along with my quick feet and I'm getting to the right spot on the field."
No More Walk-ons
While last year the Cougar secondary made do with four players that came to the program as walk-ons, the entire program is seeing some very talented scholarship players coming up through the ranks at the cornerback and safety positions.
"We're young, yeah, but you can't stay young long," said Howard regarding his cohorts in the defensive backfield. "We're confident and most of us who will start have at least some experience, which should help us out a lot."
Howard gained some good experience while subbing in occasionally for starting field corner Kayle Buchanan a season ago. The conditions in which Howard first got his feet wet weren't ideal to say the least, but he jumped in with a little trepidation, and after jumping in he realized the water felt just fine.
"It was against Tulsa when the game was tied 28 to 28 when I got my first game time experience last year," recalled Howard. "I was nervous, but excited. It was a critical situation during the game, but I felt I did fine even though we lost the game."
While his first snap may have been a bit overwhelming for the then-sophomore, Howard soon learned that it was just like practice. He came to realize that if he just did everything he was taught, he'd be fine.
"Like I said, Coach Hill knows what he's doing," said Howard. "We obviously didn't have our best game against Tulsa, but I settled in during the game and felt like I did well in every game after that. It's just being in the right place and doing what coach tells us to. That's it."
Howard has been joined this spring by some of the best scholarship talent BYU has had in recent years at cornerback, along with some very good walk-ons that will be helping out this season. Howard believes that they have a lot to play up to, but is confident that they're equal to the task.
"Guys like Kayle Buchanan and Ben Criddle, people didn't think much of them maybe because they were walk-ons and all that, but wow, they knew how to play," said Howard. "Those guys were always where they were supposed to be and we're going to have a hard time matching what they did last year. But I feel that we can, and maybe be even better with the talent we have."
Learning from the Best
Along with coaches such as Jaime Hill, head coach Bronco Mendenhall and the rest, Howard and his teammates on the defense are learning from some other teachers on the practice field.
"Every day I'm going against the best," explained Howard. "I have to cover Austin Collie every day out there and man, it's not easy, I'll tell you that. He's the best receiver in the country as far as I'm concerned. Michael Reed too, he's real good."
Indeed, day-in and day-out on the practice field Howard is seeing some of the top talent he'll ever go against, which should aid him greatly come game time.
"I know that whoever I guard and cover this year won't be as good as what I've gone against in practice," said Howard. "I know that if I can cover Austin Collie … I can cover anyone. So far he's beaten me more than I'd like, but I've beaten him too. I've had my share of good plays against him."
So how good will the Cougar secondary prove to be this year? Howard believes firmly that they'll match the play of last season and only get better as the years go on.
"You look at who was backing up the starters before this year," recalled Howard. "It was me, and no way was I anywhere close to as good as guys like G Pittman, Brandon Bradley and some of the others when I was a freshman. Those guys are pushing us, and man, we're going to be very, very good at defensive back for the next few years."