CCU tackle Ethan Howard has come out of retirement to start
Steak and pasta are diet staples, and the bottom of a pint of ice cream before bedtime is often the final spoonful.
But that is but a taste of Ethan Howard’s daily stuffing and gorging since April that has allowed the fifth-year senior to return to Coastal Carolina’s starting offensive line from a short-lived retirement from football.
Believing he was done with the game, in part because of a shoulder injury, Howard lost 55 pounds off his 6-foot-6 frame in the four months that followed the end of the 2018 season, dropping from 280 to 225 pounds.
“I was a skinny guy,” he said. “I just ran like a marathon runner and ate like a bird, a pretty vicious combo.”
Sensing Howard missed the game, and desperately needing an experienced tackle, Coastal head coach Jamey Chadwell met with Howard and invited him back on the team after spring practices.
But there was work to be done.
“He definitely didn’t look like a starting tackle in the Sun Belt [Conference] for sure, because he had already made his mind up he was going to lose weight and be a pretty boy,” Chadwell said. “You know all lineman want to be a pretty boy after they put weight on. So he had already started putting gel in his hair and all that stuff. I think he even had a tan. I think he had been going to the tanning bed.”
Howard worked out with new CCU Director of Football Speed, Strength and Conditioning Chad Scott for a month aside from the team to build up his strength and weight.
Incessant eating was also an integral part of the plan, and he has added approximately 50 pounds in four-plus months to take about 275 pounds into Coastal’s season-opening game Saturday against Eastern Michigan.
“I eat all the time. Every waking hour I feel like I’ve got something in my hand that I’m grubbing on,” Howard said. “There are times I don’t want to eat but I just kind of force-feed at this point. It’s not even enjoyable a lot of the times. You wake up and you eat, eat before you go to sleep.”
Howard was hoping to get back to 285 pounds, but with daily practices in the heat and a busy football and academic schedule this semester it’s unlikely he’ll be able to put on any more weight during the season.
“I think I’ll be fine, especially with the offense we’re running,” Howard said. “Last year I lost weight midseason. I started at about 285 and I think I ended around 280, somewhere in there, so it’s not a huge difference so I think I’ll be okay.”
Howard first injured his left shoulder two years ago and had surgery to try to stabilize the shoulder socket. He reinjured it last year.
“After last season they thought I was going to have to have another shoulder surgery, and I was like, ‘Well, I’ve already had one and I don’t want to do that again,’ ” Howard said. “In my mind I was done. I was like, ‘Alright, I’m going to graduate and get my degree.’ I told everyone there’s no way, [returning] is absolutely not going to happen.”
Chadwell had seen Howard around the program and observing some spring practices in March, so he had an inkling he’d be accepting of an offer to return to the team.
“I just think he needed a little nudging,” Chadwell said. “I knew he’d been physically beat up, and this game does take a toll on you and you sacrifice a lot, and I think his body was just tired. I think after he had time to rest and be away from it he realized how much he missed it and he wanted to be involved in the team one more year.”
Howard, who has a Communication degree and is pursuing a masters in Communication Leadership, had to scramble to get into Coastal’s graduate program, receiving help from a couple of his former professors in the process. “I’m very fortunate, to say the least,” he said.
Howard has rehabbed the shoulder this spring and summer and has had to modify his workout exercises to avoid aggravating the joint. He has been wearing a red jersey in practices to remind teammates to limit his contact.
“It’s feeling good. There hasn’t been a huge setback,” Howard said. “My approach is it’s my last year and I don’t really care if it hurts, it is what it is. If I have to get it cut on after the season I’ll be fine with that.”
Howard has started 26 consecutive games at right tackle dating back to the final two games of his redshirt freshman season and has played in all but two of the 36 games in which he has been eligible.
With Howard, the Chants have significant experience at four offensive line positions, but they are not deep along the line.
“If he wasn’t here we would be counting on a lot of young, young players,” Chadwell said. “. . . Our backups are guys who have never played before, so if he wasn’t here we’d be probably starting a true freshman at tackle, and that’s not ideal. We needed him. Offensively that’s our biggest position of need and we’re glad he’s here.”
Howard was informed before the start of fall camp that he is moving to left tackle from right tackle, at least to start the season.
“There’s really no difference, it’s just a feel thing,” Howard said. “You get stuck in one spot for two years and you get comfortable. The first couple days you’re kind of switching your hips around and getting used to that, but after you get used to it it’s the same old thing.”
Chadwell would like Howard to be a little heavier, but he’s content with the weight he was able to regain. “He put a lot of work in and we’re thankful he did that and chose to come back,” Chadwell said. “He’s where he’s at and he can get the job done that he needs to at the weight he’s at. Would we like him a little bigger? Sure. But he got to where he could in a short amount of time and he’s comfortable with it and we’re comfortable with it.”
Most of Howard’s football experience has come at Coastal. The Brookwood, Ala, native got a late start in the sport, playing only his final two years of high school and being limited to 13 varsity games because of a broken foot as a junior.
“At the end of my senior year I was like, ‘Crap, I kind of want to go to college,’ so I googled all the FCS schools and I emailed the top 25,” Howard said.
CCU offensive line coach Patrick Covington visited Howard at his high school shortly after the email blast and Howard committed on the spot. “I tried to commit right there and it kind of freaked him out, I don’t think he’s ever had anyone do that,” Howard said. “He was like, ‘Just wait and maybe see the campus first.’ I was like, ‘No, I’m fine. I’ll commit now.’ ”
Howard has enjoyed his time in Conway. He said he and fellow Alabama native and offensive lineman Trey Carter have incredulously asked each other how they ended up at CCU.
“It’s awesome,” Howard said. “I’ve loved it. It’s been great. I’ve met some awesome people and had a great time.”
Howard plans to get into coaching after the season, and said Chadwell vowed to help him get into the profession. “That’s a big piece of it for me. I’ve got an in there,” Howard said.
He now knows he would have missed football this fall had he not rejoined the team.
“When I quit I was like, “I’m not going to miss it. I’ll be fine. I’ll be okay,’ ” Howard said. “Now that I’m back I don’t know what I would have done had I quit. I’m back and I’m glad they’re willing to have me back so I’m pretty excited about it.”