Throughout his four-year career at Bishop McDevitt High School in Philadelphia, Kevin Howard never played in a losing football game. In his two varsity seasons, the school won successive Philadelphia Catholic League titles by shutouts, an unprecedented feat.
Now, as a Towson State junior, he is having trouble playing in a winning game.
For his two-plus seasons, the Tigers are 4-20. Yet, it is not for lack of effort by the two-year starting wide receiver and his teammates that they take an 0-3 record into tomorrow night's game against Indiana University of Pennsylvania (4-0, and ranked No. 1 in NCAA Division II) at Minnegan Stadium.
"We felt we were better than both Boston University and Rhode Island, and came out on the short end both times," Howard said yesterday. "A few bounces went their way [like BU's winning field goal that hit the crossbar and bounced over], and things aren't going our way. It's time they bounced our way, but that's all part of football."
Another part of football is adjusting to changes. For only the second time in Phil Albert's 20-year head coaching career, Towson State is playing without a recognized passing quarterback.
Faced with this possibility last spring, Albert took Gary Worthington, a one-time high school quarterback, and switched him from defense, where he was the acknowledged leader, to offense. At 5 feet 11 and 215 pounds, Worthington has been adapting well to the option game, running for 159 of the Tigers' 585 yards, and passing for another 253 yards.
In past years, the 253 would have been an average game for Dan Dullea, Ron Meehan or Chris Goetz -- who finished last fall as the school's all-time passing yardage leader.
"I wasn't a big-time receiver in high school," said Howard, 5-11, 168 pounds, "but I had good hands and was considered a "possession" receiver. Here, I was redshirted as a 152-pound freshman and was in awe watching Dave Meggett. I needed that year to learn the system, lift weights, and adjust to the academics.
"The next year, I played behind Mike Smith [an AP Division I-AA All-American], watched and learned."
"Last year, I got the ball a lot [a team-high 50 receptions for 721 yards and three touchdowns], so with the changes, I've had to humble myself some this year. Winning is still the important thing. It's not how many you catch, but doing whatever is required. A downfield block can be more important than a reception."
Against BU, Worthington completed one of three passes for eight yards and one interception; against Delaware State, the numbers were 7-for-19 (one touchdown), with one interception, and against Rhode Island, 8-for-12 (one touchdown), with one interception.
"Gary gets better every week," Howard said. "It just seems overwhelming, to come from defense to offense. There's so much a quarterback has to do. He's starting to read coverages better, picking up stunts and blitzes.
"Remember, it's not instinctive for him. He has to remember the play, remember the count, roll out, decide whether to run or pass, and find a possible receiver -- all in just a couple of seconds. For my part, I have to read the coverage, run the route, catch the ball."
For this week, it is a case of subtraction, working the basics with Worthington and his true freshman backup, Dan Crowley. Both have heads loaded with information, and the coach is trying to simplify things while boosting confidences.
"I want the ball, want to make the big play, but I have to be patient," says Howard. "I believe the ball finds its way to you if you are patient. What is meant to be, will be.
"And, regardless of the team we play, the main thing is to stay positive, focus on the good. I feel as though we can win every game."