Howell Right On Track

Sept. 12, 2007

By Benton Strong

The funny thing about train tracks is that they are straight andnever stray. Once a train gets moving in one direction it generallydoesn't stop and it certainly never leaves the tracks. But, one ofthe most frustrating things about trains is that you cannot seewhere you're going or even where you've been. All you can seeis what is passing you by.

Many college football players get on the proverbial trainsometime in high school, one in which the they can only hope willtake them to NFL glory. Rarely do they even look out the windowto see what is passing them by. Sometimes these kids lose trackof where they came from and almost never do they have anyidea where they are going. And it was this thought that broughtunderstanding to Husky senior Dan Howell.

Howell hasn't had the most diffi cult of lives, but choices havenever been easy for him. Howell grew up in a two-parent homewith a solid foundation and a childhood fi lled with options. Whenhe says he didn't care much about school he means he graduatedwith a 3.6 instead of a 4.0. To Howell football was not the end-allof his life, it was just something he did for fun.

As a matter of fact, not only did Howell not think he was goingto play football past high school, he didn't think he would attendcollege at all. At one point, there was little doubt in Howell'smind that he would follow in his father's footsteps and join themilitary.

'I was a decent student,' he says. 'I graduated with a highergrade point average because the level of expectations werepretty high. But really school was not my concern. Friends ofmine had already made up their minds that they were headed tothe military.'

Howell was not the case of a kid with nothing who wanted tojoin up because he had no other options. Instead think the Tillmanbrothers. This is a young man who wanted to join, wanted to fi ght,wanted to represent his country and live by a code of honor anddiscipline. And this was a teenager thinking this way.

'I just realized that I had to have options,' he recounts. 'Iwasn't going to stay at home or go to a junior college. I refusedto put any extra stress on my parents and I knew it was time forme to get out and get some independence. The fastest way to dothat is to enlist.'

His tracks were headed to the military. Then all of the suddenhe saw what was passing him by when people started telling himhe could play football in college. So he did something incredible.He got off the train. He embraced the idea that there would beanother one coming and it was going in a different direction thathe may like a little better.

'I could honestly say that I didn't think I was going to playcollege football,' recalls Howell. 'At fi rst I just did it becauseI was good at it and I like to be the best. I only took the SATbecause you are supposed to as a junior. It was in my senior yearthat I realized I had some control over my destiny. It was time tomake the military a backup plan.'

Howell traded in his footlocker for a football locker and hismilitary uniform for a football uniform. The only thing he didn'ttrade in was his mindset. It did not matter what he was doing, hewas going to be the best at it. The train he was taking was goingwhere he wanted it to go and if it went astray, he would just getoff and take another route.

'I've surrounded myself with people who have a plan,' Howellsays. 'I am not here to live off of my parents or be lazy. I am herebecause I have a goal and a plan. I am here to become my ownman and grow up.'

That plan led him to Washington, where he made an immediateimpact and saw action in nine games as a true freshman in 2004.As a sophomore he saw action in all 11 games to set up whatwould be a 2006 season in which his goals had never seemedmore attainable. It was his time.

That is why it was an easy decision for Howell to step onthe football fi eld against the UCLA Bruins last season, a weekafter attending his father's funeral. It wasn't about doing whathis father wanted him to do. Instead it was the next step for him.Howell saw his father pass him by and realized it was now histurn to engineer the train. It wasn't for his dad; it was for him.

In the fourth quarter Washington led by three with a chanceto pull off the biggest win of coach Tyrone Willingham's tenure.Howell's assignment on the play was to man the flat, which onthis particular play was void of UCLA receivers and also evidentlybeyond the sightline of Bruin quarterback Ben Olson. Olson rolledout and fi red a ball right at Howell and as he snatched it out of theair it wasn't emotion that overcame him.

'The only thought in my head was `score a touchdown,'' saysHowell, with an ear-to-ear grin on his face.

Thirty-three yards later the train had pulled into the station. Inthe end zone, there were thoughts that he was exactly where hewas supposed to be and the reminder that there has always beena plan for him. Howell's life was all his own.

'Like football, life doesn't last forever,' he explains. 'It is forus to understand that not everything is concrete, but some thingsare. As I got older I understood that death is a part of life. Forme the only question is how am I to lead my life now? I haveto do what I know is right for me to do. If I couldn't handle thepain I'd have to step down, but death isn't something I can step down from.'

Many people tell Howell he should be a coach one day. He isnot so sure, but understands the idea. He has a story to tell andteach others, but more then that he realizes that everyone has astory to tell and each one should be heard. Each track should beoccupied and everyone should realize they have a choice, justlike he did.

'It requires work,' he says. 'I think it is important to hearstories from different backgrounds so that people can have anunderstanding that things aren't concrete. There are multipledimensions to just about everything so nothing is certain, but youcan work hard to make it that way.

Some would call it wisdom beyond his years, but Howelldoesn't. He just didn't miss his train. The world has not passedhim by and he has learned to control the variables, or at leastunderstand that they are there and he has to deal with theinevitable.

Just like life is an endless number of great, inevitable ridesdown the tracks, like tunnel vision to the end zone.

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