The question actually made Josh Carraway laugh.
What effect is all this preseason notoriety going to have on linebacker Travin Howard?
The senior defensive end chuckled and smiled.
“A guy like Travin?” he answered. “Nothing, man.”
“A guy like Travin, you’ve got nothing to worry about.”
That’s just what the TCU Horned Frogs want to hear about their leading tackler from a year ago, a junior from Longview who in 12 months’ time has gone from an unknown backup safety to a starting linebacker, preseason All-Big 12 honoree and candidate for three college football awards.
Appearing on the watch lists for the Butkus, Bednarik and Nagursky awards and the defensive MVP of the Alamo Bowl last season, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Howard is suddenly the face of the TCU defense.
Now it’s his turn to shake his head and smile.
I have a little more hype to me now, I guess. But that’s all it is. All that doesn’t really mean anything.
TCU linebacker Travin Howard
“I have a little more hype to me now, I guess,” he said, talking to reporters at Big 12 media days in Dallas this week. “But that’s all it is. All that doesn’t really mean anything.”
It may mean more eyeballs on him. But after being thrown into the linebacker spot just one week into the season a year ago to help cover for a season-ending injury to Sammy Douglas and the departure of Mike Freeze days later, Howard ought to be used to that.
There was no room for error for him as he started the last 11 games and finished with 105 tackles (63 solo), a sack, an interception and three forced fumbles.
And there will be no room for error this year, either, despite a deeper position group that includes Montrel Wilson (also drafted from the safety corps a year ago), Ty Summers, a healthy Douglas and junior college transfer Tyree Horton. They will all play. But this is Howard’s unit.
He accepts that. Although he kind of can’t believe it.
“I did. Eventually,” he said, asked if he pictured himself emerging as the leader of the defense one day. “I don’t know if I thought it would happen as soon as it did.”
He shrugged and smiled.
“Hey, we’re here now. It’s a blessing to be here.”
Travin Howard entered last season with no career tackles. He had nine tackles in backup action Week 2 against Stephen F. Austin, started the next week and had six against SMU, then finished the season with 105.
It was a blessing for the Horned Frogs and coach Gary Patterson that Howard could do the job a year ago. Actually, more than one job — Howard would play defensive back in some passing situations. His versatility allowed the Frogs to match the tempo of the offense without having to wait for a substitution.
“Obviously, he got thrown in,” Patterson said. “It says a lot about him. He was at 198 pounds and played on the inside. We went from linebacker being probably the weakest point of our defense to now they’re all a lot bigger, a lot stronger than a year ago when we went into the season. They’re all leader-type guys. I think with Travin and the rest of the group, we’re just a better football team.”
Asked again by reporters at Big 12 media days to think about where he was 12 months ago, Howard said: “I was a backup strong safety looking to get on the field anywhere I could. And that’s what happened. I found a place to be on the field, and it happened to be at linebacker.”
19Season-high for tackles last season by Travin Howard in the regular-season finale against Baylor. He followed that with 13, including his first career sack, against Oregon in the Alamo Bowl.
Patterson also doesn’t have to be reminded where things stood a year ago.
“In Travin’s case, we were just really fortunate,” he said. “Every kid from Longview we’ve ever had has been a tough kid.”
And now this one is well known.
“I know he’s definitely not letting that go to his head,” Carraway said. “If he does, he knows his spot could be taken. Coach P doesn’t care — he wants the best guys on the field, so if you’re not playing your best, you’re not getting on the field.”
Howard doesn’t have to be reminded. He can remember a year back.
“I learned that Coach P has trust in me,” he said. “He depends on me to go out there and do my job. That’s what I plan on doing.”