Sun Valley High football coach Tad Baucom has coached throughout the past five decades, and he’s seen his share of outstanding players.
Two players he coached in the 1990s later played in the NFL. But since he started coaching heralded sophomore quarterback Sam Howell, Baucom has gotten a big dose of modern-day college recruiting.
A few weeks ago, Howell and his family returned from a fishing trip to the Outer Banks. After sifting through their mail, Howell discovered a poster from Notre Dame that included this caption: “You Are The Future.”
Excitedly, Howell called Baucom with the news. Until then, the Fighting Irish had not contacted Howell, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound pro-style passer who last season threw for 35 touchdowns and 3,586 yards, a national best for a freshman by more than 500 yards.
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“I called the (Notre Dame) football secretary and say, ‘Who do I need to talk to?’ ” recalled Baucom, in his third season as coach at Sun Valley. “Next thing I know she reads my phone number back to me. She says, ‘You’re coach Baucom, right?’ She said ‘Sam Howell is your QB?’ She said, ‘We have Sam on our list and your recruiter will be Mike Elston. Let me transfer you.’ ”
Baucom, whose team is 4-0 and plays host to Myers Park (4-0) on Friday, said he just shook his head after hanging up the phone.
“Man, times sure have changed with the big-time schools,” he said.
Baucom once coached two outstanding running backs at Monroe High in Richard Huntley and Terry Witherspoon, who later played in the NFL. Baucom said Howell has similar a “it factor” that those players had.
“This guy is different,” Baucom said of Howell. “He’s not a running back but a quarterback, but they’ve got that air about them, that sixth sense of football. It’s special and you know it when you see it.”
After Howell’s freshman season, Baucom called Vance coach Aaron Brand and Cuthbertson’s David Johnson, coaches who have guided high major-college prospects. He asked for advice on how to best handle the avalanche of recruiting certain to come his way.
“They said, ‘Get ready, it’s going to be crazy,’ ” Baucom said.
In his office last spring, Baucom regularly had half a dozen coaches wanting to speak to Howell. In all, more than 70 coaches visited the campus to see the young quarterback. Baucom’s phone also rang constantly with calls from recruiters. He couldn’t keep up with text messages. And that’s still the case, he said.
Howell has yet to receive a scholarship offer, but Appalachian State, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, Lehigh, Maryland, North Carolina, Notre Dame and South Carolina are among schools recruiting him heavily, he said.
Baucom said college coaches like Howell’s size and strong arm. Howell, also a baseball player, has had his fastball clocked at 87 mph.
“I knew in eighth grade he would be special,” Baucom said of Howell. “He played safety and quarterback and looked then like a man among boys. He was big for his size, thick. Today, if you walk in and see him, you go, ‘Gosh, that guy is linebacker thick.’ ”
Howell, who will turn 16 Friday, added 25 pounds in the offseason, thanks partly to an aggressive weight training regimen.
“I didn’t have to lift that much, but if my teammates were in there I wanted to be in there with them,” Howell said.
With 16 starters returning from last season’s 5-7 team, Howell said the Spartans worked hard in the summer, believing they could have a special season. They’re off to a good start. This is Sun Valley’s best start since 1978, and only two teams in school history have produced double-digit wins.
In the 4-0 start, the Spartans’ offense has averaged 46 points and 470 yards. Howell, whose father Duke is Sun Valley’s offensive coordinator, has completed 71 of 108 passes for 1,097 yards and 14 touchdowns. He ranks fifth in the state in passing yards. And what Baucom said he likes best is that Howell has grown into a team leader.
Sun Valley upset reigning N.C. 2AA state champion Monroe 45-37 to start the season. Howell led a big rally, which included a 56-yard touchdown run and a sidearm pass - through several defenders - to senior Jerimiah Miller just as Howell was slammed to the ground near the goal line. The next morning, when the Spartans reported for stretching and recovery, Howell showed up with four dozen doughnuts for his offensive linemen.
“It was a big game and I wanted to show my linemen thanks for everything they do,” Howell said. “We need them. I mean, before the season we knew as a team that we were capable of doing what has been done so far.
“But it’s more of a confidence rush now for our team that we’re 4-0 and we know what we’re capable of.”
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Top N.C. Passers
Sun Valley’s Sam Howell ranks as one of the state’s top five passers by yardage. He is the only sophomore in the top 10.
Source: MaxPreps/Observer Files