The real D.J. Howard hopes Saturday's success story continues

by - Staff Writer -
Howard races to end zone on his 75-yard TD reception.(TigerNet Staff)

CLEMSON – Who exactly was that guy wearing the No. 22 Clemson jersey Saturday afternoon?

That was the real D.J. HowardD.J. Howard
RS Jr. Running Back
#22 5-11, 195
Lincoln, AL

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Howard came to Clemson has a highly recruited speedster out of Alabama, and many thought that the 2011 Auburn game where he rushed for a career and team-high 86 yards on nine carries would be his coming-out party.

Several injuries over the last three years have severely limited his playing time, but after his struggles with injuries, Howard finally showed what he was capable of in Saturday’s blowout win over Wake Forest as he outran defenders to the endzone on a 75-yard reception and jumped defenders on his way to rushing for 34 yards on seven carries.

Death Valley hasn’t seen the real Howard in over two years; however, he told the media that Saturday was just a glimpse at what’s in store for the red-shirt junior running back.

“That’s D.J. Howard you saw Saturday – a guy who was ready, focused, and always takes advantage of his opportunities,” Howard said Monday in the WestZone. “That was who that was. I feel a whole lot healthier now. You can see it in my runs. Everything is crisper in my jumps and my runs and my cuts. Two weeks ago, I probably never would’ve made that jump. I’m feeling a whole lot more confident as a runner.”

As he lay in the dark Friday night, he knew that if he could take the pressure off of himself that Saturday was going to be a special day.

“I was just laying in bed Friday night, I turned everything off and I just started thinking – what’s the difference between high school and college? I just came to the conclusion that in high school I had fun,” Howard said. “I enjoyed it and there was no pressure. It was straight tunnel vision and focused. And, now with being banged up here and there, I seem to be putting too much pressure on myself to be too perfect and not going out there and not messing up. Once I was able to clear my thoughts and realize that I’m not going to be perfect and that I’m going to make mistakes, I was able to do what I wanted to do and perform how I wanted to perform.”

Part of getting back to the “real” D.J. Howard was playing like he did high school - he rushed for over 2,500 yard his junior and senior seasons - was relaxing and realizing that he didn’t have to be perfect to be successful.

“Probably just getting back to my old self and understanding that football is just a game and I need to go out there and have fun – that’s what the difference was,” Howard said. “Before, I put too much pressure on myself. I’m a big critic of myself and I always think that I have to do everything perfect and that’s where I mess up a lot. I start overthinking the game of football. It’s not that hard. I just have to go out there and have fun. Football is a game of x’s and o’s and whoever executes those is going to win.”

It also didn’t hurt that he had his mom and other family members in the Memorial Stadium stands Saturday.

“It’s always a good feeling to look up in the stands and see your family there, even going back to my high school days,” he said. “My mom always sat on the 50-yard line and I would always look up and spot her in the stands. It was kind of the same thing I looked up and saw them smiling at me and I’d smile at them. It just took me back to high school.”

Included in that group of supporters was his aunt from Detroit, Michigan that he hadn’t seen since before high school.

“I haven’t seen my aunt in a long time,” he said. “Honestly, the last time I saw her was probably when I was in the seventh grade. She’s been trying to get down here to see me play. I just wanted to make sure she got the best of me. I wanted to give her a great first impression of Clemson, first of all. And, then I wanted her to know that her nephew is doing pretty good for himself.”

Howard doesn’t want to be a one-game success story, and said that with his newfound confidence he will be ready when his number is called.

“[After scoring the touchdown] It’s was a feeling of okay, he’s getting back to his old self,” Howard said of himself. “He’s doing what he wants to do. He’s having fun. He’s relaxed. He’s confident. No pressure. If I have to play Saturday [in place of Roderick McDowellRoderick McDowell
Gr. Running Back
#25 5-9, 195
Sumter, SC

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], we’re prepared. I understand the offense and I’ve got it down to a “T”. If that’s what the team needs, then no stress and no problem. I’m ready.”

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