Every game in the AFL, someone wins and someone loses. On Friday, the Tampa Bay Storm made one big play that gave them the game at the end, 54-48. What doesn’t happen every day, though, is a receiver putting up a performance like Portland Thunder WR Jamar Howard.
In honor of his performance, here’s a breakdown of his night on a drive-by-drive basis.
Drive 1: The Thunder defense got the team off to a great start as they forced a turnover on downs against the Storm to start the game. The offense promptly false started, threw an incompletion, and was forced to call a timeout with the play clock running down again, putting them deep in a hole. So they put Howard in motion on the right on an out and picked up the first down. After another incompletion, Howard was in motion again, this time running through the slot on the right, cutting across the formation, and hauling in this pass:
They decided to reprise that pass on the next play, and Howard made Storm DB Al Phillips miss an attempt at an out-of-bounds shove inside the five, finishing off the play in the end zone. Howard Drive Stats: 4 targets, 3 rec, 49 yds, TD.
While wide receivers Eric Rogers (now in the CFL) and Douglas McNeil (now in the NFL) got the attention that comes with all the touchdowns last year, Jamar Howard was performing at a level rivaling them by the end of the 2014 season.
With those two gone to begin the season in 2015, Howard is now getting those end zone opportunities and putting up putting up numbers that compare favorably to last year’s top performers.
|2014, Final 5 games||Howard||McNeil||Other WRs combined|
He also put in the work in the offseason to get himself ready to be the No. 1 receiver.
“My offseason was critical. I got in the best shape of my life, I lost 25 pounds – I just know my mind’s set on my ultimate goal, said Howard. “I worked my ass off to get to this point.”
Thunder Head Coach Mike Hohensee agreed: “He came in in tremendous shape. He really reinvented himself in the offseason; he wanted to be the guy we went to, and at this point, he is.”
The program was simple, consisting of a few simple steps:
- Hit the weights. Howard had never considered that a priority before this offseason, and now he’s spending time in the weight room, shedding calories and maintaining muscle mass he’s gained.
- Keep on schedule. Gone are the days where he’d be up late at night and make a run to McDonald’s or other fast food locations. Now he doesn’t eat after 10 p.m. and works on five smaller meals per day. He’ll have a cheat day here and there, but he’s “working out so much it doesn’t really matter.”
- Cut the sweets. He also stopped eating candy and drinking soda. “I love drinking water now,” Howard said.
- Run. From running routes while working out with quarterbacks Darron Thomas and Kyle Rowley to just plain running to build up cardiovascular endurance, he credits running with helping to keep him a step ahead of defenders, especially late in the game.
In addition to having the opportunity to “become unstoppable,” as Hohensee says, both Howard and Coach Hohensee have the same goal for Howard this season.
“I want him to be a champion,” said Hohensee. “I think he’s taken that to heart. Besides being a great receiver, he’s taken a leadership role. A lot of different issues have happened on and off the field with the team, ownership, whatever it is – he’s done a great job handling that. It’s a shame he’s not one of the captains, because he’s one of the guys that’s acting like one.”
For now, performing like a champion includes pushing himself harder than he’s ever pushed in practice, something that he sees his teammates doing along with him.
“I’m pushing myself in practice. I’m practicing a lot harder. I think we all do – we compete,” said Howard. “At practice, the defense doesn’t like us and we don’t like them. But when it comes time for the game, we’re all like brothers. We love each other.”
Howard leads the team with 114 yards receiving and three touchdowns after a star turn against the Los Angeles KISS. He also earned Highlight of the Week honors after catching a pass that sent him flipping over the wall in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. He’ll take the field hoping to exceed even that performance this Friday against the Tampa Bay Storm.
Heading into 2015, the Portland Thunder secondary will be depending on new faces, as two defensive backs, Eric Crocker and Dwight McLean signed to teams closer to their homes, and a third, Varmah Sonie, signed with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.
Andre Martin, an Arena Football League rookie with some NFL experience and a FCS National Championship under his belt, hopes to help build a bridge from last year’s successful secondary to this season’s squad – after all, he and Sonie played together at the University of Northern Iowa as defensive backs.
“He was telling me even before he got with some of these NFL teams how much fun he was having up here, how glad he was to keep playing the game, how it was a nice city with great fans,” Martin said. It was Sonie’s endorsement of the Rose City that helped guide Martin here.
Then again, Martin has always been interested in connections with the past. Continue reading Andre Martin Is Used to Changing Directions