Almost Heaven, West Virginia: How Skyler Howard took the long road to be a Big 12 starting quarterback
West Virginia starting quarterback Skyler Howard has come a long way from the kid who used to sit in his house as a high school senior, emailing and calling every Division I school in the nation, desperately hoping for a shot.
That's because as a high school quarterback, Howard was not recruited. At all. Over 120 FBS schools passed on the signal-caller from Brewer High School in Fort Worth, Texas, including the school that he would eventually end up starting for.
"Back then, I didn't know much about recruiting," Howard said. "I printed out every school in the country, A-Z. Every Division I school. I had a list, and I'd just mark it off with their contact information and just call, mark it off, call, send an email, mark it off. Everyone had their shot, because I went from A-Z, literally."
Howard was a promising player and a talented athlete, but he was considered too small, overshadowed by the eye-catching playmakers and big bodies surrounding him in the madcap world of Texas high school football.
Instead, Howard went a different route, walking on at Stephen F. Austin after graduating from high school. But while Howard still very much saw himself as a quarterback, Austin had different plans—they saw him as a running back.
That just wouldn't do for the yearning quarterback. So it was off again, to Riverside City College in California.
"I'm a quarterback," Howard said. "That's what I do. Once that switch was made, I felt that my odds of gaining a scholarship somewhere were a lot higher at quarterback than running back, and at the time it was the best choice for me."
Howard seized the job midway through his first season at Riverside, and threw 33 touchdowns while leading his squad to an 11-win season. His national profile didn't grow too much—but it did just enough to attract the attention of West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen.
Then-offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson was dispatched to take a look at Howard, and one day, in the empty bleachers at Riverside's field hours before a game, Dawson offered Howard a Division I scholarship.
"Once he said 'We're going to offer you,' I was sold," Howard said. "I was sold with the Big 12, with the situation coming in, the offense that we run."
At the time, West Virginia's air raid offense was faltering, and their future at the quarterback position was uncertain. The Mountaineers struggled through a 4–8 season in 2013, their worst with Holgorsen at the helm, and used four starting quarterbacks along the way.
When Howard arrived in 2014, he served as a backup to Clint Trickett, who formed an extremely productive relationship with All-American receiver Kevin White. But when concussions took Trickett out of commission, Howard stepped in.
Only two years after Skyler Howard was writing as many letters to as many college programs as he could, just in the hopes of being noticed, he was the starting quarterback for the West Virginia Mountaineers.
It hasn't been an easy ride for Howard as West Virginia's quarterback, especially as the Mountaineers struggled through four straight losses to start the Big 12 schedule this season. But no matter the obstacle, Howard is letting the work he put in just to get here to continue to motivate him.
"It just keeps me going, how much I've put into it." Howard said. "You don't want to put all that into it and have this be the end of it. I feel like God has a plan and he took me through that for a reason, to make me the person I am today. I don't feel like he's done, either. I'm trusting it, and I enjoy the ride."
David Statman is SI's campus correspondent at West Virginia University. Follow him on Twitter.