While standing at only five feet, nine-inches tall, the former Crusader finished off his distinguished high school career with over 5,000 yards of total offense and 59 touchdowns. Playing as a running back, quarterback, and a defensive back, Howell became a nightmare for opposing teams in 2007 and 2008, being named to numerous All State teams as a running back in 2007 while also garnering the Offensive Player of the Year award for his high school this past season. A shifty runner who sports a 40-yard dash time in the mid 4.3 second range, Howell is also an exceptional student, and was named the Scholar-Athlete of the Year by the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. I caught up with Howell recently to discuss his commitment to play football for the United States Naval Academy, and learned just what attracted such a talented student athlete to a place like Annapolis.
Adam Nettina (AN): How was your experience at the Blue and Gold Game? Did you get to meet any of your future teammates? Which ones? Did you learn any more about your future on the team and as a Midshipman?
John Howell (JH): I really enjoyed the Blue & Gold game. The coaches made me feel welcome and it was nice talking to my current teammates before and after the game. It was a real family atmosphere. I had the opportunity to see my future teammates at the game, including some I had met on my recruiting visit. I also met the new guys from NAPS. I really didn't learn anything more about my future on the team – as it was more geared towards the football atmosphere - but I have been down to several spring practices and got a feel for the expectations of camp and the coaching philosophies.
AN: You had a great high school career at Lansdale Catholic. I understand you played tailback, quarterback, and defensive back at different times during your career. What position did Navy recruit you for? Which position do you feel you're most natural at?
JH: I was recruited by Navy for a tailback/slotback position, however they also expressed interest on the defensive side of the ball as a defensive back and possibly as a long snapper and kick/punt returner as well. I feel most comfortable at the tailback position though.
AN: I think anyone who has seen your highlight film (including myself) may have been a little surprised to find that you weren't recruited by some bigger name programs. Who recruited you other than Navy, and why do you think some of the bigger schools stayed away?
JH: I was being recruited by Alabama, Marshall, UConn, Pitt, Syracuse, Texas, WVU, Cincy, William & Mary, New Hampshire, Villanova, University of Delaware, Holy Cross, California Univ. of PA, United States Military Academy. To be honest I think a lot of the bigger schools saw me as a "tweener" because of my size, which may have deterred them from seeing me as an every down back. I also made my verbal commitment to Navy fairly early and prior to attending many of the camps the colleges were holding. But I believe I am an every down back that can utilize my speed and strength to hit the holes quick and get into open space. I think I play bigger than my size.
AN: You ran for over 2000 yards and 30 touchdowns as a junior, but switched to quarterback as a senior. What prompted that change, and how (if at all) do you think it effected your recruitment?
JH: After losing a great QB from last year's team, our coaches thought it would benefit the team by having me as a dual threat to run or pass due to the youth up front on the offensive line. So I did what they thought was best to give us a shot at winning games. I think most of the recruiting was based on my junior year, but I'm sure it may have had some affect on certain college teams that wanted to see what I was going to do the following season. But overall, I am very pleased with my career at Lansdale Catholic and am looking forward to bringing to Navy that same work ethic and athleticism and do whatever they need or want me to do to help the team be successful.
AN: Ultimately, why did you decide to commit to the Naval Academy and not a school like West Point?
JH: I felt that academically and professionally the Naval Academy would provide me with the tools, lifestyle, morals and career I see myself as wanting to embrace in the future. I realize that my football career could end in an instant and the Naval Academy has a top quality education I can fall back on if that situation ever arose. I chose Navy over West Point because my father was a Navy SEAL and I grew up hearing about the lifestyle and watching Navy football and it was very appealing to me.
AN: I understand your father was a Navy SEAL. How influential was he in your decision to attend USNA. What kind of advice has he given you about military life?
JH: To be honest, my father remained mostly unbiased in the decision process and wanted to make the decision mine and to allow me to make the choice based on what I felt was best for me. However, he was able to offer me some good insight into the life of a Navy man so I understood what to expect and emphasized that I must be both mentally and physically capable to handle the uniqueness of the Naval Academy. If he believed that I was not able to succeed [at USNA] than he would have never let me even consider going there.
AN: What do you know about the triple option offense? Is it much different from the scheme you played in at Lansdale? Are there any former Navy players you think you compare to?
JH: I am actually quite familiar with the triple option. However, Lansdale Catholic ran it out of mostly the "I" formation, but we did run some from the wing formation. I have also been down to the spring practices and have a better understanding of how Navy likes to run their offense. I think every running back is unique in their own style, but if I had to compare some of my qualities I would say that I have the speed and downhill running style/vision of Shun White and the elusiveness of Reggie Campbell, but that I also bring my own style and can only hope to be as successful as they were. They were great backs at the Naval Academy. But I also like to run people over, which you might not think about when you look at me.
AN: Do you have any personal goals for the 2009 season?
JH: As an incoming freshman I know I have my work cut out for me and I have a lot to prove to not only myself but to my teammates and the coaches. I want to do whatever I have to do to be a positive factor and influence for the team. Whatever that may be, I would like to earn a spot of the field.
AN: Do you know what you want to major in?
JH: Double major in Economics and Political Science to become a J.A.G. Officer with the intentions of opening my own law firm in the future.
AN: What do you know about the service commitment for after you graduate? Have any potential service selections (Marine Corps, Surface Warfare, Aviation, etc…) especially interested you?
JH: I know that I have five years of service at the least, for me it may be longer than five years depending on whether I go to law school. I am interested in becoming a Naval Aviator or E.O.D. because I can see myself in the air or on the water.
AN: Finish the sentence. The one thing Navy fans should know about me is…
JH: I have a 100% commitment to the Naval Academy as a student-athlete and as a future Naval Officer and want to win at all costs on and off the football field. I have a very outgoing and laid back personality and love to meet people off the field.
GoMids thanks John Howell for speaking with Adam Nettina, and wishes the high school senior only the best during his career as a Midshipmen and a Division I athlete. To get in touch with Adam, feel free to drop him a line at AdamNettina@gmail.com
Past Future File Interviews: