He’s lived in the third largest city in the country and the same town as the president, so it’s hard to imagine that Cumming, Georgia is the place closest to the heart of Sabrian Howard.
One sit down with the Forsyth Central running back and you’ll quickly be reminded not to make assumptions.
The scoreboard at the oldest stadium in Forsyth County has the titles Otwell Middle School and Forsyth Central High School on the signage. Howard proudly points to both. Ever since picking up football in the seventh grade, Howard has spent early mornings and late nights on Tribble Gap Road, perfecting a craft that he says can pave the way to and through his college education.
But in a place like Forsyth, where Howard even admits he’s seen players transfer to the other county schools in hopes of a preferred football environment, the long-tenured Bulldog has insisted on staying home at Central—even after a 2-8 freshman year and last year’s disappointing 2-6 finish after a 2-0 start.
“This is home,” Howard said. “Ever since the days at Otwell, this is where I’ve made all of my friends and put in the work. I’ve never thought about leaving it for something else.”
On a muggy, overcast Monday morning the team lined the concrete wall of the home stands and practiced running fundamentals—a unique workout, but something first-year head coach Frank Hepler wants to use to get his team into the same shape as the other county schools as Central prepares to move into Region 5-AAAAAAA this fall.
Many of Central’s players are young, raw, and on the high or low side of the scale for their frame. Howard stands out from the crowd—the 6-foot-1, 200-pound tailback is the epitome of what a varsity football player should strive to be, but he still manages to conceal his endearing ego—one that likes to collect gloves, shoes and stare at himself in the mirror before games.
“We need a bigger mirror in the locker room,” Howard joked.
Nay—ask him about the things that really matter, like wins and losses and learning a new offense, and Howard refuses to speak on himself.
“The biggest thing is filling in different spots, people playing in positions they haven’t played in before,” Howard said. “We’re not terrible right now but we have a lot of work to do this summer if we want to get better. We want to make the playoffs this season.”
In 2014 the Bulldogs went 6-4, just missing the postseason. Last year the team struggled, but Howard and senior running back Shaun Diebel were a one-two tandem to be reckoned with. Howard finished the year as the team’s leading rusher with 645 yards on 137 carries, scoring seven touchdowns. Diebel, his backfield mate over the last two years, ran for 609 and seven scores of his own despite dealing with injury.
This year Howard will be not only the team’s top tailback and offensive weapon, but he’ll be one of the team’s leaders along with Sebastian Legarra and Jacob Ward.
“It’s been an emotional four years, but we’re a family here,” Howard said. “Regardless of what Central’s history or perception is, we are going to come to work every day and give it all to this place.”
Once high school ends, Howard will look toward playing Division I college football. Once again, he knows when to joke and when to show his maturity.
“If I could go anywhere I’d go to Oregon. I like the uniforms,” Howard said. Asked if uniforms really matter to recruits, he nodded: “Oh yeah.”
But if not Oregon?
“Middle Tennessee State and I have talked. They have a lot of uniforms too,” Howard said. “Really, though, I just want to get to play Division I. I’ll go to the best program that will offer me. Just to have the chance to do that and have my education paid for is the goal.”
Howard wants to major in sports medicine. He suffered a serious elbow injury as an eighth grader, and wants to stay as close to sports for as long as he can once his playing days are over.
“I just love sports, really. They create a really positive environment with a structure, and I like being around that.”