When Delano Howell committed to Stanford on Thursday, the news generated discussion among fans of the two schools to have offered him, Stanford and Washington, but likely didn't attract much attention elsewhere. While UCLA maintained interest and contact with him, their class is filling up quickly, and Stanford and Washington remained Howell's only scholarship offers at the time of his commitment. Nonetheless, Stanford has ample reason to believe they gained an asset worth far more than those two offers would suggest.
With a good but unspectacular 6.35 yards per carry average as a junior and no camp performances this summer to provide the flashy athletic testing numbers fans and recruiting services alike value, Howell has had a relatively under-the-radar recruitment. Fans in Southern California, however, know what Howell brings to the table. He is a quality player who has established himself as the premier player for Newhall (Calif.) Hart High School, one of the region's top programs, and who brings value in a number of ways.
Most obviously, Howell is a versatile athlete who could play a number of different positions at the next level. At the high school level, he is a standout running back and earned recognition each of the last two years as an all-state underclass selection. In his junior year, he led Hart in rushing in all 13 games. Even more impressively, he scored 59 percent of all touchdowns scored in 2006 by Hart, a famed passing program that produced Baltimore Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Matt Moore, former Stanford quarterback Kyle Matter, Fresno State quarterback Sean Norton, and Arizona quarterback Tyler Lyon.
While Howell was the unquestioned star, Hart hardly abandoned the passing game in 2006. Howell got in the action there, too, finishing second on the team in catches and tying for first in receiving touchdowns. In doing so, Howell developed a reputation as one of Southern California's top multi-purpose running backs. His hands, route running ability, and open field athleticism were on further display this summer in 7-on-7 passing league play, where he received rave reviews until his summer was cut short by a head injury sustained in a violent collision with a teammate.
In addition to his accomplishments as a runner and receiver, Howell scored touchdowns in both aspects of the return game as well. His solid straight-line speed and open-field ability on offense make some see him as a potential threat as a returner. Even if he does not find a niche in college as a returner, he certainly would find a spot elsewhere on special teams given his versatility and physical style of play.
Despite Howell's high school success coming mostly on offense, he added 30 tackles, two interceptions and a sack on defense, and most project him as a defensive back at the next level. Indeed his frame - 5'11" 188 pounds entering his senior season - looks suited for either safety or cornerback. Scouts have commented that he does not shy away from contact on either side of the ball.
Ultimately, Howell's commitment to Stanford is such welcome news largely because his versatility gives Jim Harbaugh and the new coaching staff flexibility in plugging 2008 recruits into the depth chart in the rebuilding effort. Depending on the ultimate composition of the recruiting class and the strengths and weaknesses that emerge as the staff sorts through what they have to work with on campus, Howell could end up playing any number of positions. At this point it is not clear where Howell will line up once he gets to The Farm, but it is clear that he gives the staff flexibility in eventually sorting out the roster.
Aside from his versatility, Howell also provides Stanford with underrated athleticism. On film, he appears to be able to do everything well if not brilliantly and makes impressive one-step cuts as a running back. While he does not boast a camp circuit body of work offering camp-certified athletic numbers to skeptical recruiting observers, his track performances suggest solid athleticism. As a junior, he won the Foothill League title in both the 400 meter dash and the long jump, boasting marks of 48.91 and 22'9" respectively, solid marks that further confirm his solid athleticism.
Moreover, playing against top competition in Southern California, Howell will have multiple years of experience against future college players by the time he arrives on The Farm. Last season alone, Hart played against at least 10 players who ultimately signed with D-IA teams, including Michigan recruit Michael Williams, Texas recruit Blaine Irby, Cal recruits Shane Vereen and Chris Conte, and Stanford recruit George Halamandaris. That figure does not even include the host of players Hart played from Howell's own class who will end up signing D-IA scholarships after this upcoming season, including the nation's top running back and West's top player in all-world Darrell Scott. Including Scott, six players on Scout.com's most recent Top 100 list for California played Hart in 2006.
Given the quality of competition Howell faced, his 37 total touchdowns and 2,116 all purpose yards as a junior become all the more impressive. Skeptics will point to the games in which he was held under 100 yards rushing as signs that he is not an elite talent or consistent gamebreaker, but the top competition Hart faces week-in and week-out provides necessary context to evaluating Howell's statistics and game film.
Furthermore, it stands to reason that Howell will come to Stanford acclimated to a high level of competition in both practice and game situations. In games, he routinely lines up against future BCS-conference talent. In practice, he plays on a historical powerhouse that had 10 players sign with D-IA teams out of high school in the last five years. As a senior, Howell will be joined on the practice field by classmate Patrick Larimore, one of the top linebackers in the West and a UCLA commit.
Finally, this feature of Howell's background hints at a further strategic bonus to Stanford with his commitment, which is the cultivation of a potential pipeline in the crucial Southern California hotbed of football talent. Hart is one of the more appealing programs in the nation for Stanford to target for recruits. Harbaugh and his staff surely welcome the publicity, goodwill, and connections with coaches at powerhouse programs afforded by commitments from players' like Hart's Howell, Oaks Christian's Chris Owusu and Mission Viejo's Warren Reuland.
For a host of reasons, then, Stanford deserves to celebrate the Howell commitment more than they would for just any three-star recruit. He brings an enticing package of skills to the table and represents a significant strategic coup for the new Stanford coaching staff.
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