JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Not many student-athletes can say their education has led to an improvement of their health and ultimately a better game. Jacksonville senior D.J. Howard can thank his Kinesiology major's curriculum for an intentional rehabilitation process and a new passion.
The starting middle linebacker on JU's undefeated squad is coming off a torn labrum, but thanks to his Kinesiology major, Howard's return to action came sooner rather than later.
"It helps him understand what the muscles and structures do. From that standpoint, he can do the exercises and understand the how and why of what he's doing. Knowing that gives him the maximum movement efficiency that he possibly can through those exercises," said Director of Sports Medicine, Doug Frye, on Howard's rehab.
The Daytona Beach, Fla., native plans to build upon his educational foundation with a desire to be a strength and football coach. This past summer, Howard assisted his alma mater, Mainland High School, in that capacity. Howard needed an internship for his summer class, so he reached out to Mainland's head coach, Scott Wilson, and principal. After clearing the opportunity with Jacksonville's Kinesiology department, Howard set up camp at Mainland every weekday from 8 a.m. until late afternoon.
It was a natural fit. The 5-9, 205-pound senior still had connections to the present Mainland team from his childhood days.
"I knew most of the players and grew up with some of them. I used to be so small and I played with the smaller kids," Howard said. "I was always real short and real heavy. Sometimes I played with older guys because I was heavy, and sometimes I was with the younger kids because of my height. A lot of them are my family members and I have a bond with them so it made it even better."
He went from a Pop Warner nose guard to a Division 1 rangy linebacker who has shown great athleticism across the field. Howard, who called himself "short and chubby" until his 10th grade year when he hit a growth spurt and time in the weight room helped shed fat into muscle.
Howard wanted players on the Mainland team to experience the same results he did from the weight room. He highlighted the importance of form.
"When lifting weights for football you have to focus on different movements that you do on the field to make you stronger on and off the field," he said.
He paid close attention to the how the linebackers performed squats, a weightlifting exercise in which a player holds a barbell at the back of his shoulders while repeating a squatting motion.
"Our trainer (Frye) recorded me doing different squats to see how my hips rotated and I did the same thing with them," Howard said. "I focused on one kid and took photos and videos of him. He changed a lot over the summer and it's actually helping him now. He's doing really well."
Howard returned home during Jacksonville's bye week and was asked to help lead a team cheer during a pep rally.
His time at Mainland also helped Howard grow in return.
"The internship helped me speak out. I've always been real quiet. It helped me really communicate, even in class. In coaching you have to talk to the kids and help relate things to them," said Howard.
His position coach, Jerry Odom, has taken notice of Howard's larger presence.
"Anytime you have to learn how to coach something you have to learn how to express it to people. What we're seeing out of DJ is a better communication factor in the meeting room, the field, and a lot of things," said Odom. "DJ is a super kid and a very good representation of what we are looking for at Jacksonville University."