College football: VU’s Chris Howard likely to be a handful at hybrid position
By John Mutka Post-Tribune senior correspondent August 29, 2012 11:10PM
Chris Howard, right, tries to break free during pass rushing drills at Valparaiso University Friday Aug. 17, 2012. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Date Opponent Time
Today vs. St. Joe’s 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 at YSU 3 p.m.
Sept. 15 vs. Duquesne 3 p.m.
Sept. 22 at San Diego 3 p.m.
Oct. 6 vs. Butler 1 p.m.
Oct. 13 vs. Drake 1 p.m.
Oct. 20 at Dayton noon
Oct. 27 vs. Marist 1 p.m.
Nov. 3 at Campbell noon
Nov. 10 vs. Davidson 1 p.m.
Nov. 17 at Morehead St. noon
Updated: October 1, 2012 5:34PM
VALPARAISO — Calling Valparaiso University’s Chris Howard a “joker” has nothing to do with his sense of humor.
The term refers to his hybrid role in the Crusaders’ defense, which will be probed by St. Joseph’s tonight at Brown Field.
When the Crusaders line up in a 4-3, he’s a stand-up guy at defensive end. If they switch to a 3-4 he rolls into an inside linebacker.
“Basically, I play two different positions,” the fifth-year senior said.
Confusing? Not in the least.
“We’ve got a new defensive coordinator (Tyson Silveus), but the defense is pretty similar. He touched it up a little bit, but we didn’t have to familiarize ourselves with a new concept.”
Originally Howard matriculated to Butler, where he didn’t play football. Halfway through his freshman year, the Andrean grad realized how much he missed the game. Valparaiso was originally his second choice, but he preferred playing his football closer to his Crown Point home.
Even though the Crusaders have won just once in the last two years he has no regrets.
After playing defensive end in his sophomore season, he moved into the joker role, mastering the assignment well enough to start seven games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury.
“I tore it up on a kickoff at Drake,” he said.
The two-year starter contributed 18 solo tackles and 10 assists before being sidelined. His biggest regret was not participating when the Crusaders stunned Campbell for their first victory in two years.
“Being on the sidelines, watching, seeing the guys cry, how happy they were ... it really touched me,” Howard said.
In the offseason Howard hoped to heal naturally, but eventually opted for surgery in December. Before being cleared for active duty in June he was limited to maintaining upper body conditioning. Since then he’s focused on regaining strength in his right leg.
He reports to Eron Hodges, who spent last year as Notre Dame’s strength and conditioning intern and works with inside linebackers. When they met Howard he was No. 3 on the depth chart because of the mending ankle.
“Chris never complained,” the Illinois State grad said. “His work ethic is impeccable.”
Howard reminds him of a cartoon character, a squirrel named “Twitchy,” who never stops moving. Howard’s perpetual motion attracts the coach, who bubbles with excitement when talking football.
“When the ball is snapped, he’s gone,” Hodges said. “Zip, zip.”
On a young team — 13 seniors — Howard is being asked to be more vocal. His response surprised Hodges.
“He’s kind of quiet so I didn’t know he had it in him,” Hodges said. “Off the field he doesn’t say much.”
To make his point, the first-year aide suggested that football players need split personalities.
“Look at Clark Kent and Superman,” Hodges said. “Clark’s worried about Lois (Lane). Superman worries about the world.”
Howard needs a somewhat narrower approach, but gets the point.
“He coaches up the younger guys,” Hodges said. “That’s what you want from your seniors.”
Linebackers should be VU’s strongest asset. Players like Pat Derbak, who led the team in tackles last year; Francis Baker, Cody Gokan, Colin Burke and Roberto Kelly gained valuable experience.
“Howard’s good to go in the two-deeps,” coach Dale Carlson said. “I feel really good about our linebackers. You’d better when you’re playing a 3-4.”
Howard seconds the motion. His objectives are simple.
It’s all about winning. That means putting individual goals aside for the sake of the team.
“Any wins we get will be greatly appreciated,” he said.