Senior walk-on D.J. Howard was a bit of a media darling Monday, a first for the former West Feliciana soccer standout.
Just how new is football to Howard, who handled punting and kickoff duties against Northwestern State?
Not that new in a sense because he walked on three years ago.
On the other hand…
“This was my first football game,” Howard said matter-of-factly. “I was strictly soccer until now. I just changed balls.”
That’s first game as in Howard had never played in a high school game or middle school or even Pee Wee League.
That makes his debut vs. the Demons even more impressive: Three punts for a 41-yard average and eight kickoffs that averaged 62.5 yards.
“The nerves came during the pregame and all the walk-through stuff,” Howard said. He was informed he would be handling both duties last Friday because Brad Wing and Drew Alleman were both banged up in the season opener against Oregon.
“I kept running through the game in my mind and that was a little nerve-wracking.”
Stepping in front of the 92,405 fans at the home opener? No sweat.
“Outside in front of the fans it was just me and the ball it felt like,” he said. “I guess the adrenaline helped me focus.”
Howard said he honed in more leading up to the game warming up and stretching because he knew he’d see action, a drastic change from his two previous seasons.
“Being a backup kicker, it’s not often a kicker or punter goes out,” he said with a smile.
While putting foot to ball might not be all that new to Howard, there are other aspects of his two new roles that are drastically different.
In years past, LSU punters and kickoff men haven’t been shy about participating in coverage and making tackles when necessary.
“I see why; it was a great rush,” Howard said. “A lot of times, it’s just you vs. the ball. Going out there like I did Saturday, and it was me vs. the returner that’s a different game.
“That’s certainly an area I have to work on. It’s mostly getting used to just reading the field and knowing my job as a safety out there. Right before the second half I had to attempt a tackle. Those returners are fast.”
Besides lending a hand if a return man wiggles free, Howard also has to get used to being a target.
Kickers tend to be easy targets for blockers dashing downfield.
“You feel a little bit defenseless out there,” Howard said. “I didn’t want to be blindsided, so I was watching out for that while still reading the field and watching the return and seeing where coverage was going to be.”
With Wing and Alleman likely to be back on the field this week, Howard might go back to his normal role as a spectator.
But he made a nice first impression on his head coach.
“I kinda liked ol’ Howard out there,” Les Miles said after the game. “I liked what I saw.”
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