Dating to the spring game, Kansas University coach Charlie Weis had tried three different men at starting center. None of them could get the snaps down with any consistency.
It became obvious Weis would try a fourth after snapping issues resurfaced in the Texas Tech game, but senior Gavin Howard said it never occurred to him that he would be next in line.
“On Monday (Oct. 7) morning, coach (Tim) Grunhard texted me and said, ‘You’re starting at center. Get ready for it,’” Howard said after a smooth-snapping Saturday afternoon in a 27-17 loss to TCU in Fort Worth. “I honestly wasn’t expecting that text at all. I had been snapping the ball before practice because we have five quarterbacks, and we only had a few centers, so I had had experience snapping it.”
But he said he never had done it in a game at any level.
“The first time I had ever played center at all against a defense was in the spring for three or four practices and then on practice on Tuesday and Wednesday,” said Howard, a 6-foot-4, 300-pound senior from Owasso, Okla.
He said the only surprise came from sweat, a side effect of heat and humidity so intense that any of the spectators seated in the seats closest to the field watched the game standing under the shade provided by the deck of stands above them.
“Obviously, the guys up there are a lot bigger and stronger than some of the guys you face on the scout team in practice,” Howard said. “But one thing I had to keep worrying about, because I use a glove to help my grip, was it kept getting wet. So I had to get a towel to put it around my waist so I could get a little grip on it. I wasn’t expecting that because in practice you get breaks and stuff. But during a drive you don’t have anywhere to wipe your hands off. So that was the only thing that threw me for a loop.”
Howard said he borrowed a towel “with a little grip on it” from running back Darrian Miller and used it to wipe his glove on it.
Snaps were not an issue on a day when the offense had many problems.
“I couldn’t tell for sure because obviously I’m not looking at the snaps, but nobody came to the sidelines saying anything,” Howard said. “There was one where Jake told me it was a little bit low, but nothing he couldn’t handle.”
Facing a tough Big 12 defense is not the ideal time to try as demanding a position as center, a big enough challenge to make even a veteran a little shaky.
“I wasn’t nervous about being able to block,” Howard said. “I’ve played before. I started before. I was nervous about the snaps, but I came out before the game and snapped probably about 20, 30 snaps, and all of them were good. I had confidence once the game started.”
His crash course during practice worked.
“Jake and I communicated a lot throughout the beginning of practice whenever we were taking practice snaps,” Howard said. “He’d say, ‘Get it up,’ or, ‘Get it down,’ under center. And then back in the shotgun, if I ever had a bad snap, I’d have all the coaches on me, ‘Gav, you’ve got to get your snap up. Gav, you’ve got to get your snap down.’ It really helped me because I knew where the snaps were the whole time.”