“I just want to make sure my guys are motivated enough,” he said after practice on Tuesday. “I just want to make sure everyone’s doing what they’re supposed to be doing. I know if there’s times where I need to step up and say something, then I will do that.”
Players on both sides of the ball have taken notice.
Redshirt junior defensive back Myles Wolfolk said he initially saw the Indian Trial, North Carolina, native “coming into his own” as a vocal leader during the team’s second game against Miami, but he believes it was last week on the road when Howell truly recognized the importance of speaking up.
In the contest versus Wake Forest, UNC had only three points on the board heading into the fourth quarter.
“We've just gotta come out of the gate focused,” Howell said. “Sometimes, it’s gonna be too late, like we saw with Wake Forest. It’s too late to just start playing really hard in the fourth quarter.”
Though he admits he also wasn’t mentally sharp on every snap against the Demon Deacons, Howell hopes his voice can spark life into his team early in games moving forward.
It’s a mindset he’s begun to embrace in practice, as well.
“Before, he was just sitting back, and he’ll watch,” sophomore receiver Dyami Brown said. “... He started talking more in the huddle (this week). Before we go out and run plays, he’ll say something. Even during the plays, like when the play’s over with, he’ll say something. Like, ‘We need to do this. We need to do that.’”
A hot start to the season — highlighted by six touchdown passes and zero interceptions — has raised expectations for Howell. Last week, ESPN ranked him as the best true freshman in all of college football so far this season.
But in the matchup with the Demon Deacons, Howell had just 15 passing yards at halftime, finishing with 182 yards through the air and two touchdowns.
Howell understands that it’ll take time for him to be the player and leader he wants to be. And he said he’s OK with that.
“I get better every day,” Howell said. “I grow every day in every category of my life, whether that’s on the field, leadership, things like that, so it definitely just comes with the process.”
Some may think it’s a tall order to ask a true first-year, one who just celebrated his 19th birthday on Monday, to be a key voice in the locker room.
His veteran teammates certainly seem to think otherwise, though.
“The opponent doesn’t care about your age,” Wolfolk said. “So, I think him realizing that is gonna help him out.”
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