By R.L. Bynum
Anybody who thought that it would be tough for Sam Howell to decide whether to play in Carolina’s bowl game wasn’t talking to the record-breaking quarterback.
While he says he still has a decision to make about his future after the Tar Heels (6–6) face South Carolina (6–6) in the Dec. 30 Duke’s Mayo Bowl at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, he was always going to play in the bowl game regardless of the advice he got not to do it.
He says it wasn’t a decision at all.
“I just love this team and I love playing football, that’s the main thing,” said Howell, who has completed 701 of 1,097 passes for 10,078 yards and 91 touchdowns in his UNC career. “And I love the sport. So, it wouldn’t seem right for me not playing the bowl game. Still, I have a decision to be made about my future. Just something I’m praying about, talking to my family about.
“But I love this team,” he said. “I’m having so much fun being around these guys. I’m here for this team, and I’m going to give everything I’ve got in the bowl game. So, I’m having a lot of fun. I had probably the most fun I’ve ever had at practice. So I’m enjoying it. I’m just thankful for the opportunity to be able to play in a bowl game and I’m going to go there and give it our best shot.”
He tweeted a GIF of Homer Simpson chugging a container of mayonnaise last Tuesday with the words, “Catch y’all in Charlotte,” because of all of the speculation about his bowl participation.
“All the advice I got was probably to not play in the bowl game,” Howell said. “And everyone probably expected me not to. So, I just kind of wanted to end all that and kind of let everyone know that this is what I want to do. I’m here for this team.”
Howell’s thinking is just different than it is for a lot of college football stars who are projected to be drafted by the NFL. He said he didn’t want his last game to be that N.C. State loss but he rejected any suggestion that he wanted to play in the bowl game to give NFL scouts another look at him.
“That’s not what drove me to this decision,” Howell said. “It was me trying to show that I’m here for my team. I’m not doing this just because I want to show people that what I’m about. That’s just truly who I am. I pride myself on being a good teammate and always being here for these guys. And it just wouldn’t sit right for me kind of giving up on the season, no matter what’s at stake. I’m a true believer that God has a plan for me and has a plan for all of us. And I’m going to just do everything I can and just kind of follow his lead and give Him the glory along the way.”
If the bowl game is his last one as a Tar Heel, Howell will have gone full circle for his college career, which started with a victory over South Carolina at the same stadium. Howell, who grew up in nearby Indian Trail, said it is cool to start his career there and now play the bowl game there.
“Being able to go there again and play those guys, it’ll be a lot of fun,” Howells said. “It’s just cool to kind of be back home. A lot of people can come to the game and stuff. So, it’s just an awesome opportunity. It’s definitely something that I’m going to try to take advantage of and just try to soak it all in.”
Howell has a lot of memories from that 24–20 game on Aug. 31, 2019, when the Tar Heels rallied from an 11-point deficit with two long scoring drives late in the game. His first memory, though, is of taking a lot of hits in the first half.
“I was running around like it was high school, and kind of got some welcome-to-college-football hits,” Howell said. “I remember sitting there at halftime hurt bad. We went out in the second half with the right mindset.”
Howell was 15 of 24 for 245 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He said his first touchdown pass to Dyami Brown for 22 yards was special as was the second one to Beau Corrales for 17. Both came in the fourth quarter.
“I really didn’t know what to expect, that being my first start,” Howell said of his college debut. “I really didn’t know if our team was any good or not just because we went through spring ball and fall camp and I really didn’t know what a good college team looked like in practice. So, I didn’t know if we can go out there and beat South Carolina by 30 or lose by 40. I really didn’t know what to expect going into the game. I just knew we had a good plan.”
He’ll have a good game plan for South Carolina again later this month. The question is what the plan for his career will be after that.
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics