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ARENA: Edgard QB a winner in every sense of word

In today’s edition, we’ve featured a story on former West St. John passer and current Southern Jaguar Austin Howard that I’ve been hoping to write for awhile.

Austin wasn’t allowed to speak to the press last season due to a team rule that forbade freshmen from doing so, a disappointment because as little as he ever disappointed on the field of competition, he also rarely if ever fell short of giving me a good quote or two for a story.

But on Wednesday, he and I were able to speak on the phone and it was the same as it ever was, a good interview with an intelligent young man who is doing his community proud and then some. A star athlete from Edgard earning the MVP at the Bayou Classic would be enough, but that it came during his true freshman season and was only one of a season full of strong performances is truly noteworthy.

Austin’s always been a guy who I felt was underrated by his personal statistics. Don’t get me wrong, they were impressive, but his yardage and touchdown numbers were always strong, but never eye-popping, in part because of the Rams’ reliance on the run.

The scores his teams put up, though, never failed to turn heads. West St. John coach Robert Valdez always spoke of the uncommon trust Howard inspired — Valdez knew his passer understood how to get his team into good and out of bad situations, and where the Rams could attack a defense’s weak points the best. He’d tell me of little, underrated things Howard would do at practice to make the offensive calls easier for teammates to pick up, such as tabbing audibles with memorable nicknames on the fly —“He just makes it up as he goes, at the line,” Valdez said in a conversation last year.

He’s a leader, and while every drive may not end with his own touchdown pass, it usually ends in the endzone, and rarely with a turnover. Southern averaged 35.6 points per game in his 10 starts this season. His last two seasons with West St. John, ones that saw the Rams adopt a furious offensive pace via a no-huddle attack, saw the Rams post huge numbers each week.

“We saw what he was capable of, and we wanted to put more and more on his plate to take advantage of those rare skills,” Valdez said. “Being the guy who makes those calls in our offense, to check into and out of plays and quickly recognize what puts us in the best position … and he made it easier on his teammates. He’d make up terms and calls to make it easier for his linemen to remember checks.

“In all his years here, I don’t ever recall Austin missing practice. Not one day. He truly loved being out here. He’s the type of player that doesn’t come around every year.”

In today’s story, Howard recounts how Juan Joseph influenced him greatly as a coach, mentor and role model before Joseph’s tragic death last year. Austin responded to that tremendous adversity the way he seems to do in most matters, by manning up and succeeding in a huge way.

The nation saw it at the Bayou Classic. He continues to make his home region proud.