"Most people on the team, their big game is probably Florida, but me coming from South Carolina, this is probably my biggest game of the year or my favorite game of the year," Georgia's senior defensive end said.
Howard, who was the Class AA defensive player of the year at Hanahan High School in Huger, S.C., is on track to finish strong against his home state Gamecocks, who play the No. 11 Bulldogs in Sanford Stadium on Saturday (ESPN2, 5:45 pm.). He started the first game of his career last week and finished with two tackles and one sack.
Howard came to Georgia as a linebacker but was moved to defensive end prior to the 2005 season. He doesn't have prototypical defensive end size, not even close in fact, but he was buried on the linebacker depth chart at the time.
"The linebacker coach (defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder at the time) did not want him for some reason or another, and I said, ‘I'll take him,'" defensive ends coach Jon Fabris said. "Who cares if he's six foot and a half-inch? Don't tell him that, he thinks he's 6-2."
Howard's size is a big issue with him. He's listed as 220 pounds but is eager to point out that he's really 235.
"I wouldn't say (talk about his size) gets on my nerves, but I will say it motivates me," he said. "I'm just tired of talking. I like to go play football, man. I try to go out there and play with a chip on my shoulder."
There are positives and negatives about having a defensive end who is south of 240 pounds, no matter how far exactly it may be, Richt said.
"Because he's so quick off the ball and strong he'll sometimes lift a big 320-ponder out of his shoes, but there are some times he will get covered up by a big man, and it's tough to get off," Richt said.
Howard will be in his comfort zone against Steve Spurrier's passing attack. His size makes it more difficult to play against the run, when offensive linemen are coming straight at him, than the pass, when he can use his quickness and speed to get around a backpedaling lineman.
"He holds up extremely well against the run, and he's quick as a cat against the pass," Richt said.
Howard credits his ability to get into the starting lineup to the coaching of Fabris, who is easily the Bulldogs hardest-charging coach.
"I really wasn't focused when I first got here," he said. "I think Coach Fabris has really pushed me. He has a certain way of getting a player geeked up completely."
Fabris shares the affection.
"Between the ears, he's become a defensive end," Fabris said. "I don't mind saying that I'm proud of him."