Sun Valley High football coach Tad Baucom said that in a 37-year career, he’s coached two NFL players and more than 100 who played in college.
Where does senior quarterback Sam Howell rank among his all-time best?
“He’s the best overall kid,” Baucom said of Howell. “That’s going to hurt, because I’ve got a lot of (former players) in the area, but it’s not just the ball stuff and the ball sense but just the kind of person he is. He’s a great person.”
Howell is an outstanding football player, too. He’s ranked No. 2 among college recruits in North Carolina by recruiting service rivals.com and No. 121 nationally. He’s rated as the nation’s fifth-best pro-style quarterback prospect. Among his 32 college scholarship offers were Alabama, Georgia, Michigan and Ohio State.
Last April, Howell said he chose Florida State over Clemson, Florida, N.C. State and North Carolina.
“It was the coaches and the opportunity (at Florida State),” Howell said Monday afternoon before his first official high school football practice this season. “I really like what (Seminoles first-year head) coach (Willie) Taggart and (assistant) coach (Walt) Bell do on the offensive side of the ball. And it’s an opportunity for me to go play.”
Rivals.com national scout Mike Farrell said the big question mark for Howell projecting as a successful college quarterback is his size at 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds.
“Although,” Farrell said, “that’s less important these days with guys like (Seattle QB) Russell Wilson, (Green Bay QB) Aaron Rodgers and other shorter quarterbacks having success. (Howell) extends the play well, has good mechanics. I got to see him up close in June. He’s got confidence. His arm strength is not elite but adequate enough.
“Ten years ago, Sam would’ve been a three-star QB. Size was much more important and people hadn’t broken through that barrier of being a 6-1 QB. But based on what I see of him, he has the tools to be very successful (at Florida State).”
Howell accounted for nearly 5,000 yards of offense as a junior, leading Sun Valley to the N.C. 3AA state semifinal game. He threw for 3,372 yards and 36 touchdowns. He ran for 1,594 yards and 24 touchdowns. Those 4,966 yards rank as the fifth-highest total offensive yardage output by an N.C. public school player in history.
And Howell’s 10,175 career passing yards rank eighth in state history. His 109 touchdowns are seventh.
“I remember when he came in as a freshman,” said Cuthbertson High coach David Johnson, who coaches a rival school in Union County. “He started on varsity, and he and (former Cuthbertson QB) Austin (Kendall, now a redshirt sophomore at Oklahoma) had a battle. Sam threw for 500 yards in that game. Austin was on his way out, and there was no doubt in my mind who the next one was.”
Game after game, Howell impresses his coach and those who coach against him. But that’s not what Baucom will remember most about Howell when he graduates early in December and heads to Tallahassee, Fla., for college.
“The kids since freshman year have bought into all this,” Baucom said. “And it’s ‘their Sam.’ It’s not like everybody’s jealous or turning green with envy. It’s their guy, their community guy, their leader. Everybody loves hanging around him, and he’s as humble a kid as you’ll ever meet.”
Here are some examples of his humility.
▪ Howell’s the same guy who threw for six touchdowns in a half last season against Monroe. That was after he helped put the restaurant chairs back in place after the pregame meal and made sure the trays were emptied into the trash.
▪ When Sun Valley has its middle school camp, Howell happily plays catch with the eighth-graders.
▪ Last December, after Sun Valley’s greatest playoff run, Baucom took his seniors to volunteer at a local elementary school. The seniors wanted Howell to come, too.
When the players entered a classroom, some students recognized the quarterback. Several turned their computer screens around to show him their screen saver. They revealed pictures of Howell in action.
“I always dreamed of this type of stuff happening,” Howell said. “But honestly, I never thought it would.”
Baucom said what attracts scouts and coaches to Howell is something he calls the “It” factor.
“People say, ‘How fast is he?’” Baucom said. “How fast do you need him to be? Are you chasing him, or do you want him to line up and run the 40 (yard dash)? His field sense, his timing, he’s got that clock in his head. ... He doesn’t get caught flat-footed and just getting waylaid in the back. He’s got that pocket sense, I guess it is. He’s special.”
Early in his career, Howell said high school coaches from North Carolina and elsewhere would text and call him daily about transferring to their school. He was told he couldn’t be successful at Sun Valley, which doesn’t typically produce elite college football talent.
“And it’s turned out pretty good.”
INDIAN TRAIL SUN VALLEY
2017: 11-4, N.C. 3AA Western Regional finalist
Conference: Southern Carolinas 3A
Top returnees: Sam Howell, Sr., QB (6-1, 215); Cesar Minarro, Sr., OL (6-4, 260); Michael Larbie, Sr., OL/DL (6-2, 240); Gavin Blackwell, So., WR (6-0, 165); Cam Maddox, Sr., DB (6-2, 190); Christian Joe, Sr., LB (6-1, 190); Jack Wilton, Sr., LB (6-2, 190); Preston Doody, Sr., DE (6-3, 215).
Outlook: Howell (3,372 yards passing, 36 touchdowns; 1,594 yards rushing, 24 touchdowns last year) returns for a team that averaged nearly 40 points per game. On defense, Preston Doody (102 tackles, seven sacks) and Cam Maddox (73 tackles, 4 interceptions) will lead a young but talented group.