Two things about Keon Howard most everyone agrees on.
One, the Southern Miss true freshman quarterback from Laurel had an extremely rough start in his first collegiate game last week against Old Dominion.
Two, he has a lot of potential.
“He had some turnovers early, but you can see the type of player he’s going to be,” Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson said.
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First, the turnovers. Howard committed three on the Golden Eagles’ first three possessions, with Old Dominion converting each one into a touchdown.
“They had 21 points and had only 50 yards of total offense,” USM offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said.
That was not good. And for the game, Howard lost four fumbles and threw one interception.
But, according to coaches, he never got stage fright, never got scared, never lost the will to win.
“He’s a competitor and he just has that demeanor,” Hopson said. “The thing I love about him, too, is that he can move on to the next play. A lot of guys can’t do that. A lot of guys are talented athletes, but can’t move on. Keon is one of those guys who can move on. I’m really excited about him, I love him to death. I think he’s an outstanding football player.”
Howard, listed at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, finished the Old Dominion game with 230 yards passing, on 12 of 24, with one touchdown and one interception. He also ran 28 times for 98 yards and one TD.
“He never got shook,” Dawson said. “I don’t think anything that can happen to a football team can shake him. He brought us back to where we had a fighting chance.”
If fourth-year starting quarterback Nick Mullens is cleared to play in Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. Conference USA game at North Texas, he most likely will be in the lineup. But if Mullens can’t go because of a concussion suffered against Charlotte on Nov. 5, look for Howard to be on the field again.
“I’ve been preparing as a starter since Day 1, since I came on campus,” Howard said. “I’ll learn from my mistakes. Last week against Old Dominion opened my eyes more to know what I’ve got to learn, what I’ve got to master.
“I’ll do whatever is best for the team. Me and Coach Hop, we talked last week a lot. I told him whatever is best for the team. I’m not a selfish player. If it’s me standing on the sideline cheering for Nick, cheering for Parker (Adamson, another quarterback who also is injured), I’m going to do it.”
The plan to start Howard against Old Dominion was formulated early last week. And the freshman figured it out.
“I figured it out about Tuesday,” he said. “I sat down with Coach Hop and Coach Dawson. We had Nick in there and we all talked, what was best for the team, to try to get a ‘W.’”
The “W” didn’t come, but Howard showed his potential at times.
“The offensive line came up to me when the first quarter was over with,” Howard said, “and said, ‘We’ve got a whole game ahead of us. You are our leader. You are going to lead us.’”
If he is, by his position, the leader this week at North Texas, Howard will still be looking for that “W.”
“We’ve got a chance to go to a bowl game, so this game right here is a big week for us,” he said. “Continue to play strong, continue to fight the fight, play through adversity, finish strong. Our mindset now is to go to a bowl game.”