Skyler Howard Continues To Highlight WVU Tie
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — This may have slid by under your radar, but Skyler Howard has found life after West Virginia and has done so in a place one hardly expects to find former quarterbacks winning championships.
The gritty Howard, a kid who never would give up, left WVU two years back and tried his hand at making it as a non-drafted free agent in the NFL, but you didn’t have to be a genius to see that would be an uphill climb.
So, unwilling to head off into the cold, cruel world that awaits former quarterbacks, Howard said arigatou and headed to the Land of the Rising Sun — Japan.
OK, it wasn’t the Carolina Panthers he was joining, but to him the opportunity given him by the Obic Seagulls allowed him to continue his career, and that was all he wanted, just as the opportunity Dana Holgorsen and West Virginia gave him out of junior college proved to be the opening he needed.
He’s been there for two years and led the Seagulls to their third Pearl Bowl championship in a row while earning the game’s MVP award along the way.
And when the news of this reached America — which in this day and age was almost instantaneously — it came with his holding out before him a flag … a flag he held proudly.
It was a WVU flag.
When one thinks back to the way things were when he left, this came as something of a surprise. Before playing his Senior Day game, he had a bitter taste in his mouth and wasn’t afraid to voice it.
“Another opportunity to get booed, walking out there with my mom … Senior Day is good — you know, for the guys who really feel welcome and at home, it’s good. The guys in our team room, that’s good to send the seniors off the right way.
“I just want to play some ball. That’s what I came here for, that’s what I’m going to do Saturday and it’s what I’m going to do in our bowl game.”
The truth was, Howard had been a polarizing figure during his career … and that was unfair.
It was unfair on the part of the fans and it was unfair on the part of the media and this corner has to accept blame in that area, too.
See, Skyler Howard played as well as he could play, squeezed more out of what he had than most people did.
In some ways it was strange that he wasn’t appreciated for what he was rather than what West Virginians wanted him to be for the people of West Virginia normally appreciate this kind of athlete.
He was a tough guy who tried hard and who was willing to load 16 tons in every practice.
He made big plays, he made bad plays, but you had to appreciate that he made plays.
And, he had that certain something that won games.
OK, he didn’t win as many as anyone wanted in his two years, but he was the last WVU quarterback to win 10 games and did spin an 18-8 record out of his two starting years at West Virginia.
We mention this because his successor, Will Grier, who became a fan favorite, a Heisman Trophy candidate and an NFL draft pick went 15-8 in his starts.
If there was a singular moment in both their careers, they coincidentally came against Texas on similar plays.
Howard had was trying to score into the right corner of the end zone when a Longhorn defender tried to hit him low. He tried to hurdle the tackle, was hit and sent helicoptering through the air, landing on his head.
The play left him in what I described as a “Blue Haze”, the song Jimi Hendrix made famous, which led me to write:
“We think of Hendrix’s song in the aftermath of Howard’s Saturday night acrobatics as he sailed skyward , his head pointing straight toward Mother Earth, his legs spread like a wishbone and his health in the hands of gravity and fate.”
Grier’s, of course, turned into a two-part moment. First, in 2017 trying to score against Texas he went diving for the left pylon only to hit the ground awkwardly, breaking his hand to cost him the final two games of the year and leaving him walking away with a grotesquely dislocated finger.
He wound up not only failing to score but fumbling the ball through the end zone to give Texas a touchback
Part two came the next year he made up for it, though, first throwing an incredible 33-yard TD pass to Gary Jennings with 16 seconds left to bring WVU within a point and then making Holgorsen’s decision to go for two work out by running a similar play into that same corner of the end zone, holding the ball out to taunt the Texans.
Grier gained hero status from that play but, in truth, there is room for both of them in WVU’s hearts, as each gave a lot to the program.