MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – It’s obvious that West Virginia’s season hasn’t gone as planned.
A 3-4 (0-4 in Big 12) start has left head coach Dana Holgorsen on the controversial hot seat. Not only are fans displeased with Holgorsen, but we’ve also watched as players became the target of negative criticism on social media week after week, directly and indirectly, about their individual performances.
More often than not, starting quarterback Skyler Howard takes the heat for West Virginia’s struggling offense, which isn’t unusual from a football perspective. Of course, in sports, if you’re not being productive and/or orchestrating wins, no one cares. It doesn’t matter who you are, you’re going to be disliked. That’s just the nature of sport.
But recently, Howard has been degraded not only as a football player, but as a Mountaineer. The worst criticism that caught my eye on social media is that Howard isn’t fit to be a Mountaineer.
Is he good enough? Is he flashy enough? Does he fit the typical West Virginia quarterback mold, like a Pat White or a Geno Smith? Should he be a starter at the DI level?
Maybe so, maybe not. Everyone has the right to an opinion. But there’s one thing about Skyler Howard that all West Virginia fans should easily agree on: he’s more than fit to be a Mountaineer. Along with a wide skill set and work ethic to prove he’s earned his way up to the starting role, Howard embraces the game of football, WVU and all the programs’ traditions with class.
Just a few examples:
Sportsmanship at its finest – Last week, Howard visited Baylor quarterback Seth Russell in the hospital following a surgery to repair a broken bone in his neck. Baylor defeated West Virginia 62-38 just a few weeks prior. Both Howard and Russell are from the state of Texas and are good friends despite being opponents on the field.
His emotions are real – Following a brutal overtime loss to Oklahoma State, Howard gave one of the most emotional post-game interviews in WVU history. Breaking down in tears and placing all the blame on himself, it was never more obvious how much this team, this university, and the state of West Virginia mean to Howard.
“He cares so much and he puts so much on his shoulders that when things don’t go right, he takes 100 percent of the blame,” said WVU quarterbacks coach and graduate assistant Michael Burchett. “And sometimes as a guy that’s inexperienced, it’s hard to come out of a hole when you get in one when you put that much into it. He definitely cares and that’s what we love about him.”
He holds WVU traditions close to heart – For Halloween, Howard dressed as John Denver, one of the most beloved and well-known figures at WVU. Denver is best known as the singer of the heartwarming Country Roads, which is still played after every Mountaineer victory at Milan Puskar Stadium. Like Denver, Howard isn’t from West Virginia, but calls Almost Heaven home.
“I think you look at Skyler (Howard) and the way he plays and it replicates the type of person he is,” Burchett said. “He plays the game the way it should be. He goes out there and he plays his tail off every play. The way he competes, that’s what I’m most proud of.”
Through seven games this season, Howard has thrown for 1726 yards,16 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Although the junior has struggled at times, Holgorsen still sticks by his original statement that “this is Skyler’s team.”
“Tremendous young man,” Holgorsen said. “Very, very, very smart. Intelligent. It means a lot to him to be here. He’s a hard worker. He’s got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder where he wakes up everyday trying to prove people wrong and whenever adversity comes our way, he’s gonna handle it just fine and continue to work hard to get as good as he possibly can.”
Football is a team effort. You win as a team and you lose as a team, not as individuals. At the end of the day, at least it’s not hard for WVU fans to see that their quarterback is loyal and completely focused on this team. He has the heart of a champion, and with one year of eligibility left after this season, Howard’s senior year may just be his best.
Cover image credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports
Quotes in this article courtesy WVU Sports – Wearing the Jersey (Skyler Howard)