Over the last half of the 2011 season and through much of the 2012 campaign, Howard was, at best, a serviceable backup. After introducing himself to the Clemson faithful against Auburn in 2011, Howard struggled to show that he was more than a one-hit wonder.
That certainly changed in last weekend's 56-7 win over Wake Forest when he rushed seven times for 34 yards and hauled in two catches for 86 yards, including one that went 75 yards for a touchdown.
"Obviously, D.J. had his best game in well over two years," Chad Morris said, when asked about Howard's output against the Demon Deacons.
"We just can't wait two more years before we have another game like that. He needs to put some consistency together. That's our challenge to him [but] very proud of him and his effort."
While playing through various injuries in 2012, Howard finished the season with 138 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. He caught just one pass for 33 yards.
It was a disappointing encore performance for the former three-star prospect from Alabama, who had 230 yards rushing as a redshirt freshman in 2011.
"I used to put a lot of pressure on myself and it was frustrating when I wasn't able to make those big plays that I'm capable of," Howard said. "But I have to realize it isn't always about hitting that home run.
"You keep hitting that tree in the same spot, it's going to fall."
Howard's shown signs of progress this season. Through four games, he has 104 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.
Tajh Boyd welcomes the production to the Tigers' backfield.
"Right now, he's as a focused as I've seen him," Boyd said. "Every time he steps on that field, he gives it his all. That's all we can ask for."
Really, that's all that Howard wants to do. Sometimes, he wants it a little too much.
"I'm a big critic of myself. I always think I have to do everything perfect," Howard said. "That's where I mess up at a lot, I start over-thinking the game of football and it's not that hard. Just go out there and have fun. Football is a game of X's and O's and whoever executes those plays the best is going to win. Just go out there and have fun, that's all I do."
That 75-yard catch and run against Wake Forest looked that way.
"I looked the ball in -- I knew I had to make at least one defender miss. Once I made him miss, I just started smiling, because I knew it was a touchdown," he said.
Now, as Clemson prepares for this Saturday's road trip to Syracuse, Howard said he needs to hit the reset button.
"You've got to have that short-term memory when it comes to football," he said. "Yesterday's success doesn't matter to today's games. Just stay humble and refocus day by day."
And don't try so hard. That helps, too.
"You can't really put too much pressure on yourself. It's really hard to play in a game uptight and stressed, and worried about making mistakes," D.J. Howard said. "You have to just get out there and cut it loose. Have fun, just relax and be you."
As long as Howard keeps doing all of that, Morris will see a repeat performance much sooner than later.
Howard his own harshest critic
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