Quarterback is the most crucial position in all of College Football. In today’s modern game of high powered offenses and high-scoring affairs, a reliable gunslinger is required. However, being a reliable gunslinger is not just what shows up in the stats. Leadership, toughness, and grit are all characteristics that a quarterback must have on display while they are on the field. These characteristics were never more evident on the field than when Skyler Howard took the field for the Mountaineers.
The Fort Worth, Texas native committed to the Mountaineers in early 2014 and by the time of his departure at the conclusion of the 2016 season, had his name near the top of the West Virginia University record books. Finishing his career with 7,302 passing yards along with 60 passing touchdowns, Howard also accumulated 1,105 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns, all of this while piling 19 career wins as starter, including only the 9th 10-win season in the program’s history. So, of course, Mountaineer fans would consider him to be one of the best quarterbacks to ever come through WVU, right? This is not the case.
After what is presumably one of the top 5 careers for a quarterback at West Virginia University, fans are quick to bring Howard’s name down at every opportunity they get. Whether this be in the form of a joke or even in complete and utter slander. Many Mountaineer fans simply do not think highly of Howard. Though if the numbers are correctly dissected and matched up against even the likes of the second coming of Christ himself, Will Grier, Howard is in elite company.
After an injury to former Mountaineer quarterback Clint Trickett against the Kansas State Wildcats in late November 2014, Skyler Howard received his first extended playing time. After completing 15 of 23 passes, adding 198 yards, 2 passing touchdowns, and no turnovers, Howard appeared to have tremendous upside. With Trickett still injured, Howard would get the start in the regular season finale against Iowa State and would go on to start the final 28 games of his college career. These starts did not come without their fair share of tough times and criticism. Midway through his junior season in 2015, the Mountaineers were sitting with a 3-4 record. Many were calling for then true freshman William Crest to get his crack at being the starting quarterback, but former Head Coach Dana Holgorsen had other plans. He continued to start Howard, and the team finished the year winning 5 of their last 6 games, including a 43-42 Cactus Bowl victory over Arizona State University. In this heart-pounding, blood pressure rising late night game in Arizona, Howard would throw for 532 yards (2ndmost in school history until Will Grier surpassed it in 2018 with 537 against Oklahoma), and 5 touchdown passes. This would lead into what was a very successful 2016 season.
Using a mixture of power run game and strong defense, the Mountaineers would go on to finish the 2016 campaign with a 10-3 record. This would ultimately become the most successful season for the Mountaineers under Holgorsen in the Big 12. Howard was a vital part of this team, starting all 13 games, throwing for over 3,000 yards and 26 touchdown passes, while adding 10 rushing touchdowns. The team simply could not have had the success they did without Skyler under center. Time and time again, he would come through with game-changing plays that would help lead the team to victory. Even displaying his gritand toughness in a contest against the Kansas Jayhawks when he did a complete summersault while trying to hurdle a defender. All in all, the 2016 team would not have went as far as they did without the leadership of Howard.
As of today, Howard’s career numbers in the Mountaineer record books stand as 4th in passing yards, and 3rd in passing touchdowns. Not too shabby for the player that had zero Division 1 or Division 2 scholarship offers coming out of high school. Howard stared all of the doubters and setbacks right in the face and showed why Mountaineers will always excel at being the underdogs. From Stephen F. Austin, to Riverside City College, and finally to West Virginia University, Howard’s path is atypical of a college athlete. This path should be celebrated by all that got to be a part of it, including Mountaineer fans. The ignorance that has been displayed by Mountaineer fans since his departure in 2016 with the degrading of Howard’s career must come to a stop. Fans are quick to praise a player like Will Grier,that jumped ship before the 2018 Camping World Bowl, before they give even the slightest praise to Skyler Howard, who gave everything he had for the team. Yes, Skyler Howard is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play for the Mountaineers, and he deserves praise from Mountaineer fans for being so.