Howell front and centerOctober 6, 2006
by David Shelton, Special to the Post & Courier
As one of eight children, Rick Howell has plenty of experience playing well with others. As the veteran leader of Charleston Southern's young offensive line, Howell is daily trying to teach his teammates the same thing.
Howell, though only a junior, is the elder statesman of CSU's offensive line. The "old man of the O-line" enters this week's game with more career starts, 24, than the rest of the CSU line combined. Howell came to CSU as a guard, starting nine games as a freshman and all 11 games of last season. This season, Howell has started all four games at center.
"I love being at center," said Howell, from Satellite Beach, Fla. "I'm the quarterback of the offensive line. I make the calls and I have to be the leader. The center has to know more and has to think more and I enjoy that aspect. I liked playing guard but I think I was cut out to be a center. It suits me better."
As the center, Howell's first job is to get the ball into the hands of quarterback Collin Drafts, the school's all-time leading passer. After that, Howell and his teammates are charged with protecting Drafts and opening up holes for the running game.
With lots of inexperience on each side, the 6-1, 300-pound Howell realizes the pressure for the line to perform is great. Thus far, the unit has protected Drafts pretty well but has yet to get the running game untracked.
"It takes time for the line to start clicking but I think we're getting a little better each time we play together," said Howell. "We have a long ways to go but we're hoping that over the next few weeks we can really step up to another level. We have to be playing well once we hit the conference games. I think we have different parts playing well but we're not all together yet. We're going to get there because we're going to work our tails off.
"We were kind of the same way last year. We started off kind of slow but by the time we got into the fourth or fifth game, we started producing some big numbers on the ground. Being able to run the ball last year proved to be the big difference and as an offensive lineman, we took pride in that. We can do it again if we keep working hard."
CSU's offensive line coach Chuck Kelly, who once coached the offensive line at South Carolina, says Howell has developed into the unquestioned leader of this year's line. He calls Howell "a coach on the field."
"He's the one who gets the guys watching extra film or running extra after practice," said Kelly. "They follow his lead. Every offensive lineman in the program knows and respects Rick as the leader. He demands a lot from them but he's always out front. He's the type of player you dream about as a coach. He loves the game. He studies the game. He knows this offense as well as I do. With so much youth around him, we're very fortunate to have him on our side."
Kelly says moving Howell to center was the natural thing to do, even though he may have been an all-conference candidate as a guard. Now, Howell is an all- conference candidate at center.
"He was a good guard and now he's a very good center," said Kelly. "He has adapted very well to the move. Rick is a football player, plain and simple. You look up football player in Webster's and you're gonna find a picture of Rick Howell."
As a senior at Satellite High School, Howell verbally commited to Central Florida but was dropped when George O'Leary was hired as the Golden Knights head coach. Howell entertained offers from several Division I-AA programs before deciding on Charleston Southern.
On signing day, CSU head coach Jay Mills called Howell one of the jewels of the class and he has yet to disappoint.
"I think this was definitely the right place for me and I know that now more than I did then," said Howell, a kinesiology major who hopes to be a coach after college.
"The coaches here care about the player and the student. They want us to succeed on and off the field. We've won one championship and have accomplished things that no other team here has been able to accomplish. We're not done. We still have goals to reach."