Perhaps lost in TCU’s record Alamo Bowl comeback two years ago was Travin Howard’s defensive MVP performance.
He had a game-high 13 tackles and a sack, completing his first season as a starting linebacker with 105 tackles — the first of what will likely be three consecutive 100-tackle seasons that have made him the leading tackler all-time under Gary Patterson.
It was all so unexpected for the former backup safety, now one of the key players in TCU’s game plan against Stanford on Thursday night in the 25th anniversary Alamo Bowl.
Patterson moved Howard to linebacker in 2015 only because the Horned Frogs lost their two starters in the first two games that season.
“I was like, ‘Man, he’s not serious.’ I was like 190 pounds at the time,” Howard said with a smile. “But I didn’t think too much about it. I just went in and gave it the best that I had. Threw my body around.”
In his first action, he led the team in tackles against Stephen F. Austin. The next week, he started against SMU and hasn’t left the lineup except for two games this season because of an ankle injury. He even played a month after an appendectomy in August 2016, not missing a game en route to leading the Big 12 in tackles.
“It’s ridiculous,” linebacker Ty Summers said. “You think of what it feels like to go and hit someone one time, the effect it has on your body. To do that 333 times, with violence? It shows how tough he is, how athletic he is, just consistent.”
Thursday night’s bowl game will be the 36th start for the senior from Longview. Howard has averaged 9.3 tackles per game in that stretch, setting the record in three seasons. He didn’t record a tackle as a freshman.
“It’s a physical game. That’s why you’ve got to live in weight room,” said Howard, now 213 pounds. “Before the game, after the game, you’ve just got to live in there, take care of your body the best that you can, because things are going to happen. It’s a violent game.”
Howard passed Jason Phillips’ previous record of 315 tackles on Nov. 11 against Oklahoma.
He needs two more tackles to become what is likely the first TCU player with three consecutive 100-tackle seasons.
“He helped me win a lot of ballgames,” Patterson said. “You have to admire everything he is. He did it with class. He was a consummate team player, captain, everything. Good dude.”
Howard will be one of the players TCU relies on most against Stanford’s running game, led by Heisman Trophy runner-up Bryce Love. It is not likely Stanford will show anything he hasn’t seen.
“He’s a smart football player,” TCU defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow said. “He understands leverage and schemes and gaps and those things. He had done a lot of the same techniques as a strong safety as he does at linebacker. He gave us a lot of flexibility because he’s a guy that can still go out and cover people.”
TCU will have to move on without Howard next season. He will leave as a record tackler, three-time team tackle leader, one-time Big 12 tackle leader and as a defensive bowl MVP. At least once.
“Good player,” Patterson said simply. “You wish you had 100 of him.”
No. 13 TCU vs. No. 15 Stanford
8 p.m. Thursday, ESPN
Head to head