Determined running back D.J. Howard knows it's his time to shine

After an injury-plagued sophomore season, Howard hopes to challenge McDowell for starting spot

D,J. Howard eludes being tackled as he runs down the sideline during the Clemson - Auburn game.

Photo by Mark Crammer

D,J. Howard eludes being tackled as he runs down the sideline during the Clemson - Auburn game.

D.J. Howard chose Clemson over Auburn because he had his heart set on being a running back.

At the midway point of college career, eligibility-wise, he knows it's time to make a move.

"Last year I didn't perform the way I wanted to because of some circumstances," said Howard after practice on Monday. "But that's behind me now. I know the things I have to do to improve and take my game to the next level."

Howard made a splashy debut as a redshirt freshman in 2011, and then claimed the Tigers' No. 2 running back spot last spring in head-to-head competition with Rod McDowell.

The fall of 2012 wasn't a particularly productive one for Howard, however. Hampered by a series of nagging injuries, he never hit his stride; and while he struggled, McDowell found his footing and emerged as a viable second option to Andre Ellington.

Now, with the starting position up for grabs, it's McDowell who has the edge. And it's Howard who is determined to turn the table.

Asked if has his sights set on the starting job, Howard replied, "always."

"I'm trying to win the job, and every day is a grind," he said. "It's a dog-eat-dog world out there. There are no hard feelings on the field - we're all brothers - but when it's time to get on the field, I'm going to give it all I can."

Howard said he's still working on perfecting his running style.

"It's something I have to do one day at time," he said. "There are little things I have to correct. I've been working on my footsteps and the playbook - small things. I have technique things I need to work on, keeping a low center of gravity so I can make my cuts."

Howard has enough of a taste of success to be confident in his ability to be a mainstay running back at the college level. That has helped him push past the obstacles created by last season's injury big.

"Anybody who's been hurt can tell you that once you get injured, you take a step back in your mind," Howard said. "It's not so much the physical part as it is the mental part - the mind set.

"I've already set a standard for myself, and I know what I'm able to do. Now I just have to apply myself each and every play."

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