Thomas Howard: I don'?t know if he went to the Combine way back in the day, but him being in the league and having a successful career in college and the NFL has definitely helped me. Our conversations ? we don?t conversate every night ? but when we do converse it?s helpful. Little tricks of the trade that could give me an advantage over other guys.
I was at the Senior Bowl and got to watch you play, how much did that help your stock?
Thomas Howard: I had fun at the Senior Bowl. This was such a tough linebacking class, we had fun. I was able to showcase some of my abilities against some of the big main guys and me coming from a so-called mid-major college, people may question that I don?t play top quality players every week. It was a fun experience and I?m glad I went.
How do you go from walk on to being an Oakland Raider?
Thomas Howard: Hard work. My transition. I was born in Lubbock, TX and upon my parents? divorce moved to Seattle and moved back my sophomore year in HS. It was a tough process. I was real immature, tall, kind of tall, not as tall as I am now, almost 6-2. Real thin. Had to work my way to a starting position in HS. When I got an opportunity to go out to UTEP and play, I always felt in my heart I was a Div. I football player. Going to UTEP is one of the best things I ever did. Gave me an opportunity to get on the field early. I know my body has matured and I?ve matured mentally. One of the best things I?ve gotten from UTEP is I?ve learned the game of football a lot more. Not just as a linebacker, but the game in general. Having my father play in the league has helped me tremendously also. Being able to get out there on the field at an early age, being a red shirt freshman having started two games, you can?t emulate, you can?t practice game speed. No matter where you go, being on the field on Saturday nights, you can?t practice that on Monday's and Tuesday's.
Talk about the challenge of being noticed as a walk on.
Thomas Howard: Very tough. Mentally, physically draining. You don?t get the meals and you don?t get your books paid for. You have to wait in lines to get financial aid and loans. You have to be completely focused, because it?s very easy for you to want to give up, but it?s been a dream of mine since I was a young kid and I wasn?'t going to let anyone stop me.
What happened then?
Thomas Howard: My red shirt freshman year I was basically a starter right behind a senior. Homecoming game I started, sixth game. Was going to continue to start, but had an injury that held me out of the last two games of the year.
When did you realize you could play in NFL?
Thomas Howard: Just competing against other athletes out there, my game, I got a lot more confident. That?s one of the biggest things I?ve gained since HS. My confidence level wasn?t as high because I wasn?t getting the love that I had gotten growing up. You have to regain your confidence and go out there and play with confidence. That?s what separates a lot of guys on the field.
So did you feel like your junior year you'?d most likely play in the NFL? Or did you figure it out sooner?
Thomas Howard: It?s always been in the back of my mind to play in the NFL. It?s always been a dream of mine. When it became a reality that it was actually going to happen, probably my junior year.
From walk-on to mid major, have you always been fighting an uphill battle?
Thomas Howard: I guess so. It makes a great storyline. That?'s just how it was. I am not complaining about it. It?s just how it was. Everyone has a story and this is mine.