Oct. 25, 2000
Position: Def. Tackle
Hometown: Mountain View, CA
High School: Los Altos
The numbers on Willie Howard speak for themselves: through last week's victory over USC: 20.5 career sacks, 165 tackles, 36 tackles for loss. But, perhaps one number means more to Willie than any other: 103, which represents the players, coaches and support staff that make up the Stanford football family.
"Stanford football is a family," Howard says. "They are there for you, the people pushing you to give 100 percent whether you're in practice, in a game, in the surgery room. Without them, it would really be hard to be a successful person, because it takes more than one person to make a team."
Never was this family atmosphere more evident than in the 1999 Rose Bowl, a game which Howard started two weeks after suffering ACL damage and an MCL sprain to his right knee. In this age of prima donna athletes - multi-millionaires who jump from team to team at will and miss games because of the slightest injury - Stanford's All-Pac-10 defensive end was a shining example of a team player.
"After the Notre Dame game last year, I knew how much everyone looked at me as a teammate and as a leader on this team, and that's what helped me to push to make sure I played in the Rose Bowl, to push to make sure I came back healthier than ever after the surgery."
"Just as I rely on them to make plays, they relied on me. If I sat out, maybe we wouldn't have the same chemistry as before - it was important to me to be there for my team."
If Stanford football is indeed a family, then Willie Howard is indisputably one of its' father figures and leaders. A trip to the Cardinal practice field will often yield a sight of the "Big Dog" teaching his pups, be it his fellow "Trench Dogs" or rookies such as freshman offensive lineman Kwame Harris.
"As a fifth-year senior, as a leader in general, it is important for people to see what other players can be. When I see people who can become very effective players, I want to take them under my wing and show them what it takes to be great. Eric Heitmann has done that for me, so I want to do the same - not just for Kwame, but for all the young guys. Any input you can give, any constructive criticism, helps make other people better."
Family is important to Howard off the field as well, and was a large factor in his decision to come to The Farm.
"The biggest reason for me choosing Stanford was family. Family comes first, and they have been able to share the success I've had because I've been close to home. If I had gone to Nebraska or somewhere else, then it would be harder for my family and friends who helped me get here to share in this now."
And, while one might think that a 6-4, 298-pound lineman who is a finalist for both the Outland and Lombardi Trophies would name someone like Bruce Smith as his role model, Willie opts for someone who has never donned pads and a helmet: his mother.
"The biggest role model I had growing up was my mom. She may not be a Charles Barkley or Sheryl Swoopes, but she did everything possible for us. If she had to work two jobs to make sure we had a Snickers bar, then that's what she did. She did everything she could to make us happy."
Stanford Athletics Highlights:
|One of the top defensive linemen in the nation ... Has been named one of 12 semifinalists for the 2000 Rotary Lombardi Award, given annually to the nation's top lineman ... Named a 2000 Preseason First Team All-American ... Won the 1999 Morris Award, given annually to the top lineman in the Pac-10 ... A First Team All-Pac-10 choice as a junior and an honorable mention selection in his sophomore campaign ... Finished third in the Pac-10 last season in both sacks (10) and tackles-for-loss (19), adding 54 tackles ... Returned a fumble for 22 yards and a touchdown last season at Arizona State (11/13/99) ... Played in the 2000 Rose Bowl versus Wisconsin (1/2/00) despite ACL damage and an MCL sprain in his right knee, picking up five tackles and one tackle-for-loss ... Winner of Stanford football's Al Masters Award for leadership and respect of teammates as a sophomore ... Has career totals of 20.5 sacks (-124 yards), 165 tackles and 36 tackles-for-loss (-157 yards).|
As a person in a position of influence, Willie is now trying to do for others what his mother did for him.
"Community service is one of the biggest things Stanford football has imbedded in my mind. Without people pushing you to go on the right track as a young child, life can be hard. I had positive role models, and now as a player that a kid may look at, it is important that I set a foundation for them to succeed and to lean on. If they need someone to tutor them or whatever it may be, it is important that I am there to open the door for them."
This spirit of family and of giving, the same passion evident on the field during a goal-line stand or an 80-yard drive, is seen not just in Willie, but in Stanford football as a whole.
"So many players are giving so much. We understand how important we are, how many lives we can touch. If it's just one life we can change from being a thug to being Barry Sanders, then we have done our job as Stanford football players and that is something to smile about."
So, where will the Stanford football family - from players to parents to children watching on television - gather on January 1, 2001?
"We would love to gather in the same place as last year," Howard says emphatically. "The Rose Bowl in Pasadena."
by Matt Hodson