In a summer marked by recognition for TCU football players on 10 watch lists for national awards, it is puzzling that a preseason all-American failed to crack the top 33 candidates at his own position for one honor.
But that is the case for linebacker Travin Howard, who led the Big 12 in tackles last season (130) and was projected in June as a first-team all-American by Lindy’s College Football National 2017 Preview.
The senior from Longview was left off the list of top candidates for the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker, yet surfaced on two other lists designed to honor the best overall defensive player: the Bednarik Award and Nagurski Award.
Howard, one of four Horned Frogs selected to the preseason All-Big 12 team, shrugged off the slight during an interview at last week’s Big 12 football media days.
Asked if he cared about the Butkus snub, Howard said: “I don’t. It’s just a watch list. It’s all hype. That’s all it is.”
Indeed, players omitted from preseason watch lists remain eligible to win the award if their performance merits such recognition. That remains the case for Howard (6-foot-1, 213 pounds), a converted safety who saw the Butkus list fill with the names of two other linebackers on the preseason All-Big 12 squad (Oklahoma’s Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Texas’ Malik Jefferson).
Howard, who arrived at TCU as a three-star recruit, has been defying the odds since the second week of the 2015 season. That’s when coach Gary Patterson shifted him from backup safety to linebacker because of injuries and attrition at that spot.
Howard wound up as the Horned Frogs’ leading tackler that season (105) and led the league in stops last year despite missing fall drills because of an emergency appendectomy. He earned first-team, all-conference honors last season.
Patterson expects a healthy Howard to take things to an even higher level after playing at less than his physical peak last season. TCU reports Saturday for the start of fall drills.
“He couldn’t lift and do all the things he needed to do. So it caught up to him,” Patterson said. “For us, having him back to full strength will be a big deal.”
TCU linebacker Ty Summers says the Horned Frogs project as Big 12 title contenders because returning members of a veteran defense have the talent to "stop any team in the nation" during the 2017 season. Video by Jimmy Burchjburch@star-telegram.com
Fellow linebacker Ty Summers, who also cracked the watch list for the Bednarik Award but not the Butkus, considers Howard the most essential element on a veteran defense capable of taking things to a much higher level after last year’s 6-7 season.
“If each of us go out there and do our job, I think we can stop any team in the nation,” Summers said.
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Among TCU players to earn watch-list acclaim this summer, three made more than one list: Howard, center Austin Schlottmann (Outland Trophy, Rimington Award) and running back Kyle Hicks (Maxwell Award, Doak Walker Award).
Other names to surface for positional awards included defensive back Nick Orr (Jim Thorpe Award), punter Adam Nunez (Ray Guy Award), quarterback Kenny Hill (Johnny Unitas Award) and receiver/kick returner KaVontae Turpin (Paul Hornung Award).
Although Howard did not make the highest-profile list devoted exclusively to linebackers, he said his emergence at the position over the past two years has convinced him of one thing.
“I’m where I’m supposed to be,” Howard said. “It lets me know that I’m doing something right.”
At the end of the season, Butkus Award voters will be able to judge for themselves whether Howard belongs in the postseason mix for the honor.