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Walk-on Howard '09.5 takes unlikely path

David Howard '09.5 slept zero hours the night before day three of the NFL draft. He didn't yet know the Tennessee Titans would select him in the seventh round. He didn't know which NFL city, if any, would be his next home. He didn't know if the last four months of high-intensity training — after a lifetime of preparation — would pay off.

"I tried to put through every possible situation and every possible scenario" while lying in bed, Howard said. "I can't even really begin to tell you what was going through my mind. It was too much."

Still exhausted from the sleepless night, Howard received a phone call in the middle of the seventh round from the Titans. It took him until midway through the conversation to realize that the team had just drafted him.

"Great feeling," he said. "It was wild."

Indeed, his long road to the NFL certainly wasn't conventional.

Howard never dreamed of playing in the NFL as a child.

"I never really thought I was good enough for this," Howard said. "I always thought that professional athletes were beyond-this-world athletes. I didn't think I was capable."

In fact, he didn't even come to Brown to play football.

After verbally committing to play football at Delaware, the Brown track and field program recruited Howard at the last minute. His older brother — who had played football at Harvard — and his dad — who was a high school guidance counselor for 30 years — convinced him to head to the Ivy League.

Once on campus, Howard didn't go unnoticed by the Brown football team for long. On the day he arrived, he found an e-mail in his inbox from one of the assistant coaches of the football team, trying to recruit him to hit the gridiron.

It took him a year before he finally accepted the coach's offer, but when he did, he made an immediate impact on the field. Howard had 4 1/2 sacks his sophomore year, the third-most in the Ivy League.

The same year, he became a two-time shot put Ivy League champion, but after the track season, he dropped track in favor of football.

Football "was just more fun," Howard said. "Football is a team sport. Track is not a team sport, so you don't get that camaraderie."

He didn't realize at the time that he was making a career choice, too. It wasn't until his junior year that playing in the NFL began to seem like a real possibility.

"Scouts started coming around and agents would come up to me after games and try and talk to me," Howard said. "At that point in time, I was like, this is something that I want to do. If this is possible, I'm going to do it."

The scouts started noticing the 6-foot-3-inch, 295-pound senior when he earned first team All-Ivy honors and had 30 tackles, including 13 for loss, 6 1/2 sacks, three fumbles forced and five quarterback hurries.

He had an extra year of NCAA eligibility because he hadn't played football his freshman year, so Howard took off his senior spring and interned at Gilbaine, a Providence construction company.

It was during this time that the first NFL team expressed explicit interest in him. On the Sunday after the 2009 Draft, a representative from the Cleveland Browns called him. But when Howard told the Browns that he was coming back to Brown for a fifth fall, the conversation ended.

"I think they were going to invite me to a camp," Howard said. The Browns representative "didn't really say it, but there was no other reason for him to be calling me."

The economics major returned to the classroom for a fifth fall and again dominated the trenches on the football field. Despite being double-teamed on what he estimated was 85 percent of the snaps, Howard had 29 tackles, including six for losses and one sack. He also led the team in quarterback hurries with eight.

Throughout the season, the NFL scouts kept taking notes.

"I can't think of a team that hasn't been in to at least watch film, talk to my coaches," Howard told The Herald in November. "I talk to a good number of them. I don't get a chance to talk to all of them."

On draft day, it all came down to the Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders, Dallas Cowboys and — at the last minute — the Titans.

"It was kind of hectic getting calls from scouts and teams" during the draft, Howard said. "I was just looking for the team that would give me the best chance to make the roster."

His journey is far from over now. As the 241st overall selection in the draft, Howard will head down to Tennessee rookie minicamp Thursday to begin the battle for a spot on the Titans 53-man roster.

It's a challenge Howard has been looking forward to for a long time.

"I don't think I've ever been challenged to that level," Howard told The Herald in November. "In high school, I played varsity as a freshman. I was just bigger and a better athlete, wherever I went. And you know, coming here I started playing and starting as a sophomore, making an impact as a sophomore. I kind of want to go in when I'm an underdog and see what I'm made of."


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