Challenges at Kansas State Make a Battle-Tested Will Howard Extra Grateful for Ohio State Opportunity

By Andy Anders on January 30, 2024 at 1:41 pm
Will Howard

Hardship can often breed gratitude in a person.

As Will Howard met Ohio State’s media for the first time at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Tuesday, a player who underwent plenty of hardship during his time at Kansas State expressed great amounts of gratitude about being a Buckeye.

“I’m just so grateful to be here in this building,” Howard said. “It’s a blessing, it really is. I’ve gotta pinch myself every day that I get to come to work here.”

Battle-tested through tough times in Manhattan, Kansas, Howard enters his fifth and final season of collegiate football ready to lead the Buckeyes into 2024.

"My time at K-State hardened me," Howard said. "Obviously it wasn't on the stage that this is, but I'm ready. I feel like nothing that is worth getting ever comes easy."

Howard’s Kansas State journey was far from a straightforward one.

He started seven games as a true freshman after starter Skylar Thompson suffered a season-ending injury, taking plenty of lumps as he completed just 53.6% of his passes and tossed 10 interceptions against eight touchdowns. Howard returned to a backup role as Thompson returned to full health the following year.

“The biggest thing(s) I learned through my four years at K-State were humility and (that) there’s always going to be hard times,” Howard said. “I think it was a blessing. As hard as it was going through some of those things that I went through, playing as a freshman – really my freshman and sophomore year kind of skewed my stats so it makes it look like I throw a lot of picks – but at the end of the day, I learned so much from those times and from my struggles early on.”

In 2022, the Wildcats brought in former Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez to start for them, intending to redshirt Howard. But a leg injury to Martinez midway through the season lined up Howard for a starting opportunity against Oklahoma State on Oct. 29.

Howard ended up getting carried off the field by his teammates as a Kansas State home crowd chanted his name that day. He lit up the No. 9 Cowboys for 296 yards and four touchdowns, leading the Wildcats to a 48-0 victory.

Martinez returned as the team’s starter the following week and the intention was still to preserve Howard’s redshirt, but another injury to Martinez a few weeks later returned Howard to the starting job permanently. From there, he led Kansas State to its first Big 12 championship in 10 years, defeating TCU 31-28 in the conference title game.

Howard finished his junior campaign with 1,633 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and four interceptions, completing 59.8% of his throws.

“I’ve just matured and learned so much from those experiences,” Howard said. “I feel like it’s made me a lot tougher. I’m really hard to break now. You can say what you want about me but I’m still me. At the end of the day, I trust God and God’s got me no matter what.”

"I’ve just matured and learned so much from those experiences. I feel like it’s made me a lot tougher. I’m really hard to break now."– Will Howard on his hardships at Kansas State

Finally, Howard became Kansas State’s full-time starter in 2023, and this time it wasn’t because someone else got injured. He had a career year, completing 61.4% of his passes for 2,643 yards and 24 touchdowns against 10 interceptions.

Howard’s senior year also saw the best showcase of his rushing abilities. He picked up 351 yards on the ground, the most since his freshman season, and proved a menacing red-zone threat with nine rushing touchdowns.

While Howard still intends on being a runner when the offense needs it, he’s excited to demonstrate what he believes are his biggest strengths as a quarterback on the passing side of things at Ohio State.

“The things that Coach Day does in his offense and that Coach O’Brien does I feel really fit my type of build, my type of player,” Howard said. “Where I was coming from at K-State, it was a very run-heavy type of offense, especially quarterback run-heavy, which I was very happy doing and didn’t mind doing at all. I’m excited here to where I can be more of that pocket passer and also use my legs when I need to – but I feel like my strength is in my arm.”

Howard announced his entry into the transfer portal on Nov. 27, electing not to play in the Pop-Tarts Bowl with Kansas State.

The Pennsylvania native felt pressed by teams at times in the portal, with myriad high-level opportunities thrown at his feet. Knowing that playing in Columbus would be a “huge honor,” however, he was willing to be patient and wait until after the Cotton Bowl for Ohio State to decide on the future of its quarterback position.

Following the Buckeyes’ 14-3 loss to Missouri, the murmurs Howard had heard of their interest in him turned into direct contact and a full-blown recruitment, he said. He pledged his services to Ohio State on Jan. 4.

“Throughout the portal process I just prayed and trusted God and knew that his plan for me would be greater and that I would end up where I was meant to be,” Howard said. “That paid off tenfold. I feel like I landed in the best possible place for myself and I couldn’t be more thankful and blessed to be here.”

One of the main things that drew Howard to Ohio State was its pro-style offense. He felt he could “put up a lot of numbers” in some of the more Air Raid-style offenses that other schools were recruiting him to play in, but he saw a better path to NFL development through a more NFL-like attack.

Following his commitment, the addition of offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien strengthened his belief in that professional development.

“Coach O’Brien, he was just with the Patriots,” Howard said. “How much better can you prepare for the NFL than with someone who’s coached at a head coach level and at a coordinator level in the NFL? All the things pointed to Ohio State.”

Among his other reasons for selecting the Scarlet and Gray were the amount of receiving talent that will surround him and the culture in Columbus.

“There were a lot of reasons why, but when I got to the end, it was more, ‘Why not?’” Howard said. “I just felt like this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up on. I thought I had a really good relationship with Coach Day, thought he was a really good guy, and obviously didn’t know about the Coach O’Brien news, but that fired me up too.”

Howard’s already started making an impression on his teammates, even fellow transfers who are as new to the program as he is.

“He’s a very impressive guy,” new Buckeye center Seth McLaughlin said. “He’s very intelligent. He’s smart. He’s played in a lot of games. He’s a Big 12 champion and he’s won championship games. Going and playing with a quarterback that knows how to win games was a super big thing to me because my main goal is to win football games in my fifth year.”

The starting job isn’t guaranteed to Howard yet, even if it seems to be a formality given his track record. He stated on Tuesday that he’s excited to come in and battle in a room stocked with five scholarship players.

“We definitely talked about it,” Howard said. “We’re all here to compete and we’re all here to help the Buckeyes win. That’s all we’re here for. That was made evident when I came on my visit and the thing that I’m most fired up about is how good the dudes in the room are and how good they’ve been to me.”

Howard will get his first chance to showcase his toughness and on-field abilities when spring practice begins in early March.

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