They rushed him into surgery. He emerged as the Big 12’s top tackler

TCU linebacker Travin Howard (right) helps with a stop of Arkansas running back Rawleigh Williams III in the fourth quarter of a Sept. 10 game at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
TCU linebacker Travin Howard (right) helps with a stop of Arkansas running back Rawleigh Williams III in the fourth quarter of a Sept. 10 game at Amon G. Carter Stadium.

No one knew what was wrong with Travin Howard as TCU began practice in August. But it was clear something wasn’t right.

The junior linebacker wasn’t moving well, and he had a look of discomfort on his face. It had been days, but finally, he shed his tough-guy image and said something.

“It’s a good thing he did, because that could have turned out really bad,” teammate Ty Summers said.

The pain in Howard’s abdomen turned out to be appendicitis, and he went straight from practice to the hospital.

Surgery took care of the problem, but it meant at least two weeks of down time with no practice for the Horned Frogs’ top tackler. He acknowledged Wednesday at the Liberty Bowl that the surgery slowed him down for longer than he thought, and that perhaps he should have taken more time to recover.

Instead, he returned in time to start the season and again led the team in tackles. The junior from Longview had never been worried about bouncing back — he thought of the emergency as just another injury.

“Was I scared? Not really,” he said. “My mother actually had to rush down that night like at 2 o’clock in the morning. I was more nervous for her being on the road that late rushing down here.”

But it wasn’t just another injury, and it wasn’t just another round of “bouncing back.” They marvel that he was even able to play at his normal level at all.

“You have to have something a little extra to be able to push through that. ... That was impressive. It’s an honor to be able to play next to a dude that’s as fired up as he is,” Summers said.

Howard led not only TCU in tackles this season, but also the Big 12. He heads into Friday’s game against Georgia with 125, ranking seventh in the country. That’s on top of a 105-tackle season from the year before, when he converted from safety to linebacker.

“If we asked Travin to go play noseguard today, he’d step in there and go play noseguard the best he could and wouldn’t have a question about it,” defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow said.

So the thought of being without Howard for any time at all was a foreign idea for the Frogs. They all remember the day he had to leave practice.

“It was weird because we were just like, ‘Where is Travin?’ ” defensive end Josh Carraway said, shaking his head at the memory. “They go, ‘Oh, he’s in the hospital.’ We’re like, ‘Oh. That’s weird.’ 

Since he has returned to full health, Howard has led an improved TCU defense. The Frogs allowed an average 23.8 points in the final five games against Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas and Kansas State.

Howard also collected an interception, two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and 1.5 sacks in the 12 games. Still, he can’t help but wonder what things would have been like had he been full strength all along.

“I knew something was wrong,” Howard said. “I was still practicing thinking it was something minor. It turned out to be a bigger deal than I thought it was. I guess it played a little part. Later on in the season, things started clicking and things started rolling.”

He gave a small shrug.

“Things started feeling back to normal.”

Carlos Mendez: 817-390-7760, @calexmendez

TCU vs. Georgia

11 a.m. Friday, ESPN

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