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Former Hart RB Delano Howell is a key member of the Stanford defense

Posted: October 18, 2009 10:52 p.m.
Updated: October 19, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 

Delano Howell made quite a name for himself as a running back at Hart High School.

As a member of the Stanford Cardinal, he's making a name for himself on the other side of the ball.

As a freshman in 2008, Howell was stuck behind standout running back Toby Gerhart, who has played even better this year.

So the true sophomore converted from running back to strong safety in the offseason, where he is fourth on the team with 36 total tackles.

"The coaches felt I was going to be more productive on the defensive side," Howell says. "That's why they moved me."
Hart High School head football coach Mike Herrington isn't surprised by Howell's success.

He is surprised, however, by where it's coming from.

"I'm surprised he's having it at strong safety," Herrington says. "He didn't play defense for us that much, and it's a tribute to his work ethic and the way he plays."

The Cardinal, at 4-3, has exceeded expectations so far this season, despite losing two straight.

Stanford got off to a 3-0 start in conference, including a late September victory over then-No. 24 Washington a week after the Huskies upset USC.

Howell picked off Washington quarterback Jake Locker twice in that game.

"That was a big victory," he says. "We needed to prove we were capable of playing any level of team. After we got that victory, it's hard to stay humble, but that's what we had to do."

Howell had nine tackles Oct. 10, but the Cardinal suffered its first conference loss in a 38-28 setback at Oregon State.

"That loss was a learning experience," he says. "We learned we have to get ready to play after getting off the bus."

Despite starring at running back in high school, Howell was ready to play wherever Stanford wanted to put him when he first enrolled.

He was recruited as an "athlete," which in the world of recruiting means someone who can play offense or defense.

"I always knew there was a possibility to play defense," Howell says. "I walked into the opportunity with excitement."

He usually spends practice working with defensive backs coach Clayton White, a former linebacker at North Carolina State who spent a pair of seasons with the New York Giants in 2001 and 2002.

Howell credits White for encouraging him and making sure he understood the defense, and he also praised senior free safety Bo McNally and backup strong safety Austin Yancy for teaching him the coverage scheme.

"Not only is (White) a good coach, but he's a good mentor as well," Howell says. "I couldn't have (made the transition) without the upperclassmen."

He also might not have been able to play in the NFL as a running back.

The position is deep with talent every year, and talented defensive backs are harder to find.

With his 5-foot-11-inch build, Howell is roughly the same size as Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed and Denver Broncos safety Brian Dawkins, two perennial Pro Bowlers.

While he's nowhere near that level yet, Howell does feel the position change will serve him well.

"I think I have a better chance of playing football in the future as a defensive back, and I'm thankful that I was moved because now I can chase that dream of going to the next level," he says.

Besides, Howell notes, playing safety isn't much different than playing running back.

"Running back is a physical position," he says. "He initiates contact all the time. As a safety, I'm really initiating contact and you have to bring some power. You've got to get low with your pads. Playing running back allowed me to get toughness."

And Stanford is reaping the benefits.

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