Will Howard had no shortage of options when elected to enter into the transfer portal in December after spending the past four seasons at Kansas State.
Having started 27 games dating back to 2020, including six in the Wildcats’ run to a Big 12 championship in 2022, the fifth-year senior was one of the most sought-after quarterbacks in a jam-packed market. After taking a visit to USC, the Trojans were perceived by some as the frontrunner to eventually earn Howard’s services, but he remained patient as the market continued to evolve.
Enter Ohio State.
Following Kyle McCord’s surprising transfer to Syracuse, Ohio State’s quarterback depth chart was shrouded in uncertainty as Devin Brown and true freshman Lincoln Keinholz prepared for the Buckeyes’ Cotton Bowl matchup with Missouri. The season finale figured to be an early opportunity for Brown to solidify his place as the clear leader of the offense after being narrowly edged out by McCord to begin the season. But like everything else related to the offense that night, Brown’s ascension did not go according to plan.
After three uninspiring drives that produced just three points, Brown was injured in the second quarter and forced to exit the game. Thrust into a difficult position, Keinholz predictably fared equally poor as the Ohio State offense continued to sputter en route to a 14-3 defeat to finish the season on a two-game losing streak.
Whether Ohio State’s struggles in the Cotton Bowl factored heavily in its decision to pursue a quarterback in the portal, or perhaps were simply the final consideration in a process already underway, may never be truly known. Regardless, as Ohio State began to throw its weight around in the transfer, there was Howard, still waiting patiently for the right opportunity to emerge.
Howard’s patience was rewarded shortly after Ohio State’s Cotton Bowl loss as he committed to the Buckeyes on Jan. 4, more than a month after entering into the typically fast-moving transfer portal world. Speaking with the media on Jan. 30 for the first time since arriving in Columbus, Howard spoke of how glad he is to have waited out the process despite admittedly feeling pressured to decide quickly.
“At times, it felt rushed and it felt like I was pressing,” Howard said. “People were saying, ‘We need a commitment,’ need this and that. But throughout the whole process, I just prayed and trusted God and knew his plan for me would be greater and I would end up where I was meant to be. And that paid off tenfold. I feel like I landed in the best possible place for myself, and I couldn’t be more thankful and blessed to be here.”
As Howard began to consider Ohio State, he found himself often asking why Columbus might be the right destination for him. But as he narrowed in on a decision, a different question began to emerge, and one for which he didn’t have any type of deterring answer.
“There were a lot of reasons why (I chose Ohio State), but when I got to the end (of the process), it was more ‘why not?’ I just felt like this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up on,” he said. “I thought I had a really good relationship with coach (Ryan) Day and thought he was a really good guy. Obviously, I didn’t know about the coach (Bill) O’Brien news, but that fires me up, too. There were just so many different things that went into this decision. It was a long, weird journey in the (transfer) portal, but I couldn’t be happier and more blessed to be here.”
Howard revealed it ultimately wasn’t another school that served as the biggest competition to Ohio State. While he felt all his collegiate options on the table were good possibilities, it was the NFL Draft that nearly won out after he received an invite to participate in the Senior Bowl.
“I was projected a third to sixth-round pick was what I was hearing,” Howard said. “You can never really trust anything that you hear, but that was consensus what I was hearing, and I felt like my talent level didn’t really match where my draft stock was. And I just felt like I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to try and bump that up while going somewhere to compete for a national championship.”
As he settles into his new surroundings, Howard is gearing up for a run of spring practices unlike anything he’s experienced during his college career. After losing to Michigan and missing out on the Big Ten Championship Game for the third consecutive year, Ohio State will enter 2024 under immense pressure at a place where vast amounts of pressure are the norm.
The return of nearly all of its draft-eligible class in a collective effort to handle unfinished business has only upped the stakes in Columbus, and Howard is excited for the chance to help them and the program achieve those goals.
“Coming from a place like Kansas State, where we really prided ourselves on our culture, I feel like we won a lot of games because of that culture,” Howard said. “We beat Oklahoma three years in a row. We didn’t necessarily have more talented guys. Coming (to Ohio State), where we have all the talent in the world, and you put that in with the culture that we have here, it’s special.
“When I came in and met these guys who are projected first-round NFL Draft picks, their heads could be as big as this room. But they’re all here to win, and they’re here because they love the Buckeyes. That’s really cool to be a part of.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.