It was a January Tuesday in 2010, close to college football’s national signing day, and the former Lincoln High running back had just sat down with then-Clemson assistant coach Charlie Harbison.
Harbison was there following a weekend that saw Howard visit Auburn and announce that his visit had “sealed the deal” for his months-long commitment. Naturally, Harbison wanted to unseal Howard’s deal and seal a Clemson visit.
If Harbison might have mentioned recruiting-site reports that Howard’s position might change at Auburn, well, he wouldn’t be the first coach to play the negative-recruiting game.
Minutes after meeting with Harbison, Howard sat down for a scheduled interview with me, the writer in his face and the human who happened to be there in his moment to vent.
“This is how I feel about it,” he said. “I believe people — they’ll tell you whatever they want to tell you just to get you down there.”
He went on to say, “I’m committed and everything, as far as Auburn, but I don't know. It’s confusing, but I'm still committed.”
Does the fact that Howard is at Clemson four years later mean that he was a liar?
Does the fact that he changed his mind or, perhaps, announced a decision too early earn him scorn from fans of another school?
Of course not, and that’s why the facepalm so closely follows reports of Auburn fans allegedly mistreating Auburn High linebacker Rashaan Evans and his family.
According to Evans, fans have talked about boycotting his family’s business and not serving his family in local restaurants. Really?
If any of it is true, then it’s sickening. He’s a kid, damn it.
He’s a kid who faced a wrenching decision between hometown Auburn and rival Alabama, the school with the best situation for his position. That Auburn was even in that recruiting battle until the end likely owed to social pressure around Evans.
In fact, it’s not hard to see Auburn’s Rashaan Evans and Oxford’s Racean Thomas as two sides of the same coin.
No, Thomas is not from Tuscaloosa. Lord knows what reaction a Tuscaloosa kid that Alabama wanted would get if he announced for Auburn on signing day.
But Thomas grew up an Alabama fan. Had his decision come a year earlier, he might have ended up at Alabama, but Alabama signed four running backs in 2013.
Too, Gus Malzahn returned to Auburn as its head coach in December 2013, bringing back the offensive system he ran as Auburn’s offensive coordinator from 2009-11. It was a perfect fit for Thomas.
So Thomas made the right decision for him. His August announcement met with social-media flak, but it died down.
Evans announced his decision on signing day after a much publicized recruiting battle. The lateness of his announcement added to the shock value for Auburn fans, but he made the right decision for him.
Auburn runs a 4-2-5 defense. That number “2” represents the number of linebackers Auburn uses in its base defense, and Auburn signed five-star linebacker Tre Williams.
Alabama runs a 3-4 with two outside linebackers. That’s Evans’ position and how he sees his path to the NFL. His decision made sense.
If anything, Evans and Thomas deserve praise for cold-eyed thinking. They looked past often-absurd emotions of the Alabama-Auburn rivalry and made business decisions.
That any adult would see their decisions as cause to thump chests or walk ledges shows that some adults are too caught up in the emotions of a rivalry.
As Howard’s story and so many like it show, any adult who gets worked up over the college choice of an 18-year-old needs to check himself.
Contact Sports Columnist Joe Medley at email@example.com. Twitter: @jmedley_star.