Now in his first few months as the head coach at Easley High School, Howell made the short trip down Highway 123 "three or four" times this spring to watch McDowell practice.
"At the end of last year and this spring, I'm beginning to see him to what I saw him doing for us in high school," Howell said.
So it's no wonder McDowell, a redshirt senior at Clemson, has taken over as the Tigers' No. 1 running back. As a U.S. Army All-American, McDowell rushed for 1,892 yards and 23 touchdowns during his senior year at Sumter.
"You begin to see him go back to what's inside of him, which is that innate ability to run the ball," Howell said. "It's going to be fun. My daughter has been his biggest fan forever. She's going to be fired up to watch him."
Coach is pretty fired up, too, but not just because McDowell will finally be the first-team running back at Clemson.
"I'm just proud of him for hanging there. Whether he ended up starting this year or not, I'm just proud," Howell said. "He's made some tough decisions. He decided not to be selfish and to just continue to work hard and play his role until it was his time to have a legit shot at being the guy. I'm extremely excited for him to have that opportunity."
Most highly recruited prospects probably would have sought a new home if they found themselves in McDowell's shoes. When he arrived to Clemson in 2009, C.J. Spiller, Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington were already on campus.
From 2009-2011, McDowell played sparingly behind the three future pros. He rushed 46 times for 224 yards and two touchdowns during two seasons on the field.
"All those guys at that level, because they're used to being productive, if they're not getting opportunities, a lot of times they decide it's better to go somewhere else," Howell said.
The idea was kick around between the two.
"We had some discussions, sat down and talked. I just kind of challenged him about what is important to him," Howell said. "What does it mean for you to get your degree from Clemson? What does it mean to be a part of continually bringing back a program that had been down for a while, to kind of resurrect it?
"He made the decision. It was just my role as the former coach to just kind of guide and ask the right questions -- make him think about the big picture."
It looks like McDowell made the right decision, because the decision to stay began to pay off last season when he won the No. 2 running back job.
McDowell finished third among Clemson rushers with 450 yards and five touchdowns on 85 carries in 2012. He also caught three passes for 29 yards.
Those numbers should jump even more now that McDowell is No. 1.
"He decided that a Clemson degree was important. Finishing what he started was important. Like I said, I'm proud of him. I'm proud to see the maturity in making the decisions a grown person would make, not that a kid would make," Howell said.
The throwback Hot Rod
CUTigers.com Top Stories
College coaches who could get hired awayWhy these highly sought college football coaches would leave (and why they could stay)
TOP PLAYS: NC State vs. ClemsonHere's a look back at some of NC State's top plays against Clemson, and the highlights are courtesy of ABC. The first video is a collection of all the highlights and below it are…
Pack PrideYesterday at 8:28 AM
Top 5 Football Team Entrances in the ACCFrom the Ramblin' Wreck leading the Yellow Jackets onto the field to running down the Hill at Death Valley, the ACC can boast some of the best football team entrances in the…
Scout CFBTuesday at 11:41 AM
PARTING SHOTS: ClemsonWhat did we learn about NC State from the Clemson loss? We review the game by answering several critical questions about the Wolfpack.
Pack PrideTuesday at 11:25 AM
RECRUITING RADARIn our weekly Recruiting Radar, CUTigers Recruiting Analyst Gary McDaniel updates you on the latest news and intel on the Clemson recruiting front!
CUTigers.comMonday at 5:30 PM