WALKER HOWARD: AN LSU ODYSSEY

Updated: Mar 1



by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN

@LonnPhillips


We've mentioned his name when talking about the future of LSU's quarterback position....we've talked about him whenever discussing great young Tiger commits...we rejoiced when he announced his commitment last June...we went off on this uber-talent in a recent Mark Rogers appearance but we hadn't written a full length profile on the young man just yet....why??? So many asked us why?

Where is the Walker Howard profile?

LSU Odyssey isn't a place where we talk at length about recruits outside of the presently recruited class...we believe in each having their time; other than a few interviews or dedicated pieces, there wasn't an obsession with 2022's particulars...all that we recited was the thoroughly obvious fact that 2022's Louisiana talent could and probably should give LSU every opportunity to win another championship...with 2x state title winning St. Thomas More quarterback Walker Howard as the Grand Sultan of the group...

He has it all: heart, mind, soul and a brilliant quarterback's arm stemming from his father's genes, LSU's former 90s quarterback Jamie Howard.

More than anything, he knows what to do with his talents.


During 2020, his debutant starting campaign, Walker exuded confidence, command and uncanny presence for a first year starter, throwing 1 interception every 63 passing attempts (5 in 316 throws, statistic per Gabe Brooks).

Across Howard's junior year, he tossed 42 touchdowns, 3,340 yards through the air, rushed for 3 more scores on the ground, and finished with a completion percentage of 66% as defending champions St. Thomas More pulled off the repeat ...it had been a whirlwind season...one which catapulted Howard from talented prospect to renegade 5 star phenom.

But he wasn't far from our radar before 2020:

Maybe Walker's success boils down to his patience, waiting his turn and learning under the competition of his 2 year battle with current Harvard QB Caleb Holstein:

"It's the best decision I ever made," Howard told the Advocate of his choice to stay on as Holstein's backup. "Caleb made me compete every day at practice. I was able to learn the mental part of the game. He was a great high school quarterback, and I learned so much this year from him. There's so much more about the game I need to be learning. I work with Jake Delhomme a lot. I'm going to work with Arch Manning this offseason. He and I are going to get together and work together on all facets of the game."


Over the course of his freshman and sophomore campaigns, Howard embraced this backup role fully, shocking many with his amazing mentality as he polished his craft during practices, scrimmages, 7 on 7 games or garbage time appearances for St. Thomas More.

Though he prepared as if he were starting, only to see his on-field role minimized as a second stringer, Walker grew as a player and matured in much the same way as Joe Burrow, Steve Young, Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady before him.

Those years can seem like wasted time where titles could've been won, stats should've been padded, or you can look at the backup experience "half full", winning a championship and gaining a step over most quarterbacks, which is the way Walker chose to view the experience.

Although make no mistake...Now is his time...

Instead of experiencing serious growing pains during his freshman and sophomore years at the collegiate level, Walker may have already exorcised most of the learning curve, putting up a respectable 4 rushing & 2 passing TDs from 2018-2019 as he completed a meager 13 of 29 attempts in his backup role for 172 yards.

Even as a substitute, Walker astounded anyone who watched him:

"Walker's physical ability has people in amazement," St. Thomas More's Offensive Coordinator Shane Savoie told the Advocate in January 2020. "When they would come to watch him play, they would see that he's special the way the ball comes out of his hands. He can create in the pocket. It was similar to a lot of the things you saw Joe Burrow do this season that people were impressed with."

The same month, Howard arrived for his showcase at the Army Combine in San Antonio with tons of whispers, expectation, the knowledge of his father Jamie...still, most of these scouts hadn't seen this young man deliver the football as a starting high school quarterback yet....most expected a raw above average talent.

It didn't matter what the expectations were... Walker shattered the stigma, blowing everyone away while being named the #1 quarterback of the combine by Geaux 247.


"There was a lot of competition at the combine," Howard said. "I do really well when there's competition. When there are great quarterbacks out there, like the Texas commitment (Jalen Milroe), it just makes me want to do better and better and just keep getting better with more reps."

Then came 2020, the year he finally took the reins at St. Thomas More for a wild defense of their 2019 state championship...but thanks to Holstein's example, coupled with his father's own experiences with stardom, the moment wasn't too much for Walker and he was ready.

So was his buddy Jack Bech, the hulking St. Thomas More receiver who's surgical athletic precision after the catch was already a hallmark of their offense....once Howard took over as the starter, everything accelerated from there.

Across their undefeated 10 game jaunt (7 regular season bouts, 3 playoff games), St. Thomas More's offense racked up four games of 50+ points, twice eclipsing the 60 point mark, scoring 42 on another occasion, 39 and 37 elsewhere and never scoring less than 31 points in any contest under Walker Howard's debutant junior campaign.

The 2022 LSU commit's distributive short passing command was a marvel throughout last season, guiding lasers through coverage like he's tossing around practice dummies. He routinely found fellow LSU Tiger Jack Bech on the screen, Walker's bulleted passes hitting Bech with near perfect timing, allowing his best friend's running back body to bulldoze, spin, turn, juke or melt defenders with his deceptive pace.


Bech was his favorite target, amassing 14 touchdowns before the title game alone, however far from Walker's only key weapon: throughout the 7 game 2020 regular season, WRs Carter Arceneaux (672 yards, 9 TDs), Paxton Perret (483 yards and 3 TDs) and Carter Domingue (327 yards, 5 TDs) tied up one of the most (if not the most) elite receiving units in Louisiana.

Favoring a speed-infested passing game based out of a shotgun spread formation (ala LSU), built on the screen action before ending in rousing deep ball touchdowns, Walker Howard's relationship with his receivers was nearly telepathic, committing sporting artistry to eternal memory.

But in their title game rematch vs #1 ranked De La Salle, both Bech and Howard capped their lone season starting together in unbridled, record breaking fashion.

From the first two plays of the game, you knew it would be a night few ever witness in the high school game on such a grand stage.

Howard hit Bech on back to back opening plays, both short screens for 22 & 29 yards, the latter seeing the 2021 LSU commit turn his defender into quicksand and take off for the score...a move he'd continue to utilize.

After only 29 seconds, the score was already 7-0, Jack Bech had a touchdown and Walker Howard was in scientific command, eviscerating De La Salle's secondary at will with rampant orchestration of his receivers' interchanging short routes.

The 2022 LSU commit did have his faults in the championship performance, throwing a poor second half interception on a misread screen pass to Bech, a turnover De La Salle cashed in to tie the title game at 21.

Following the interception, the way Walker responded makes him a sure fire bet and a dream for Tigers fans:

Needing only 30 seconds, Howard delivered another touchdown strike to Bech, retaking the lead after showing quirky improvisation and gutty throws through the middle of traffic.

At the end of the wild night, Walker finished 18/26 for 381 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT and his buddy Jack Bech broke the Division II title game receiving yards record with a monstrous 232 through the air and only 1 yard off the all time LHSAA title game record (1 yard? Surely he grabbed 1 more yard! I demand a recount). Howard found his "partner in offensive crime" for 2 crucial TDs, Bech closing out his senior year with 16 total scores and a huge 2 point conversion catch to seal the victory.


Over the course of their 10 games together & in the title game, these two showcased a bright advertisement of what they can accomplish together on the field at LSU; but it's the unbreakable brotherhood between the QB and receiver which takes the cake.

Both experienced tough losses in their young lives, Walker with his mother and Bech's grandfather, both passing away in the last 2 years.

Through the worst days, they helped strengthen each other in the wake of tragedy, building one another up through the pain of loss.

Was it the loss of loved ones which drove these two young men beyond themselves...as if they had nothing more they could possibly lose on the field...giving everything they had physically and mentally as if they were being watched over??

On September 27th 2018, Walker tragically lost his mother Kathryn to cancer; In tribute to her, Walker's commitment video featured an emotional shot of him placing his future #4 jersey on her grave...

It was in that moving moment many finally understood who drives Walker's iron will most and why the Tigers have such a special place in his heart. Kathryn met Jamie when they were both students at LSU...of course, while his father was quarterback for LSU during a turbulent tenure....wearing that same number 4 jersey...

“To be completely honest with you, I maybe even pushed him away from LSU a little bit,” Jamie Howard told Kevin Foote after Walker committed to LSU.


“Sincerely I wanted him to create his own path,” Jamie said of Walker's collegiate choice. Like father like son: Jamie was also an All-State quarterback at St. Thomas More, and as all Tigers fans know, played for LSU from 1992-95. “I didn’t want him to be caught up in my mess or anything I did. But that doesn’t seem to bother him at all. He’s a lot different than me.”

Just as Walker wants to play for his mom at LSU, he also wants to wear the purple & gold as well as the #4 to re-write his own father's conflicted personal history as a Tigers quarterback.

Despite his father finishing his career as the third-leading passer in Tigers history, ranking second for touchdown passes (34), Jamie was one of the more harshly criticized quarterbacks to wear the purple & gold, even receiving death threats at one point after a collapse vs Auburn in 1994. Holding a 23-9 lead, Jamie threw 5 interceptions in the final quarter, three returned for scores as #11 Auburn came from behind to beat LSU.

There is no doubt in my mind Walker will be keenly eyeing revenge for his father when he wears the purple and gold, but even his son's gusto for the Tigers has surprised Jamie:


“At the end when he confronted me last Friday, he said, ‘Dad, why don’t you want me to go to LSU? I said, ‘That’s not the case. I just wanted you to see everything.’ He had his mind made up. I think he just really loves Coach O. He was raised as a Tiger fan and he said, ‘Why would I go anywhere else?’ "

It's also clear Walker's friendship with WR Jack Bech was just as key in the receiver's flip from Vanderbilt as Mickey Joseph's offer, the pair desperate to join together once again at LSU during 2022....but more than continuing their own personal conquest, they actually have a "Howard to Bech" legacy to live up to in purple & gold:

Believe it or not, the Howard to Bech ties grow even deeper: Walker's father Jamie threw touchdowns to Jack's uncle Brett, an LSU hero of the mid 90s who walked on at LSU and proceeded to have a remarkable Tigers career from 1993-1994, racking up 89 catches, 1,438 yards and 9 TDs, including a long touchdown off a deflected Jamie Howard pass to open the infamous 1994 Auburn contest.


Hearing the "Howard to Bech" call from Jim Hawthorne "The Voice of The Tigers" is madness from 1994...then seeing it again here in 2020 during a state title game for St. Thomas More..."Howard to Bech again," deja vu which definitely supplies the chills for both Jamie Howard & Brent Bech.

Although as far as Walker is concerned, there'll be plenty of time to focus on LSU dominion in the near future. Right now, he has designs on the task at hand: making up for lost time at St. Thomas More.

Before Walker Howard wears his father's #4 jersey as a 2022 freshman, he has his mind set on a third consecutive state title with St. Thomas More, ending his high school career on the perfect note...and who would bet against him?


Possessing a howitzer for an arm (the "How-itzer"), an outstanding on-field awareness, exacting decision making, an unreal ability to extend the play, accuracy against the blitz, expert pocket manipulation, an insatiable hunger & desire for improvement, and most of all, a higher purpose, you'd be a fool to bet against him.

Either jump on this train...or you better get outta the way.


GEAUXTIGERS


by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN

@LonnPhillips

Copyright 2021 Uninterrupted Writings Inc LLC


SHOUTOUTS: Pete H. & 2020!!!! You two thank you for your support!



DEDICATED TO KATHRYN HOWARD

3/19/1974 - 9/27/18

















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