The passing numbers that Sunrise Christian quarterback Zach Howell put up in 10 games last season were eye-popping.
Yards: 4,208. Completions: 327. Attempts: 503. Touchdowns: 46. Game highs: 627 yards and seven touchdowns.
When Sunrise coach Trey Hall sent video of Howell to college coaches, though, there was one number they fixated on: 160. As in 160 pounds.
“After the first couple games last year, he got some notoriety and coaches said, ‘We like your arm, but we are not going to offer a scholarship to a 160-pound kid,’ ” Howell’s father, Marc, said.
But Howell is a goal-oriented kid, so much so that as a freshman he told Hall he intended to be the National Honor Society president as a senior. He is.
He now has his sights set on getting a Division I college scholarship. While he doesn’t have any offers, he’s put in the work to increase his strength and size, putting on 35 pounds. He’s increased the velocity on his passes and can throw 65 yards, about 15 farther than last season.
“The thing I like about him as a quarterback is you can trust him on the throws 99 percent of the time,” Sunrise senior wide receiver Weston Brewster said. “You can know when you run your route that the ball will be there, right then and there in the perfect spot. It’s pinpoint accuracy nine times out of 10.”
Hall recalled a 48-yard pass by Howell to Marcus Fager last week, when Howell dropped the pass, in the back corner of the end zone, over the defender’s shoulder and Fager didn’t have to stutter step. Just like Howell does it in practice in the trash-can drill.
While Howell has been a quarterback since his first season in second grade with the Cowboys youth football team, putting on weight wasn’t easy.
“It was weights, eating a lot, trying to put on weight,” he said.
He went to camps at Kansas State, North Texas, Tulsa, Louisiana Tech, Butler and Emporia State. But mainly, he ate and lifted weights. He didn’t play basketball as a junior so that the running wouldn’t keep off the weight.
Howell (6-foot-1) eats four or five meals each day, consuming 4,000 or 5,000 calories. He’s not gorging on doughnuts or fast food.
“A lot of times it isn’t fun,” he said of eating that much. “I’m not just putting food in my mouth. You have to eat things high in calories and high in protein. I’m eating more specific things, like chicken and potatoes. I have a protein shake twice a day that’s 900 calories with 70 grams of protein. It’s not fun a lot of times. It’s not easy to get bigger.”
Howell has more to prove than being bigger. His 4,208-yard season came against a schedule of small schools – similar in size to Sunrise, which has around 20 players for an 11-man team.
Sunrise is not a member of the Kansas State High School Activities Association, but is labeled an approved school that member schools can play.
The Buffaloes pumped up their schedule this season, adding Kingman (Class 3A) in the opener, a 52-34 loss in which Howell completed 40 of 61 passes for 348 yards, two interceptions and four touchdowns. Sunrise plays at Douglass (3A) on Friday night and then plays Hoisington (3A), Valley Center (5A) and Fredonia (3A).
While Sunrise is playing against bigger schools, there’s no doubt that Howell would have been tested more if he had gone to a bigger school. As Howell was heading into high school, he had the opportunity to go to East after qualifying for the International Baccalaureate program.
“My hope was he would play at East and get exposure at a 6A school,” Marc Howell said. “We talked about it. He’s a Christian kid who is serious about his faith. He finally made the determination that if God wants him to play college ball, he can do it as easily from Sunrise as East.”
Zach Howell doesn’t know what will happen with college, but that’s not his focus right now. He’s put in the work, he’s gotten stronger and bigger. Now he wants to win with his teammates.
“College isn’t really on my mind right now,” he said. “I want to go out there and play football. I’ll send my game tape. Hopefully they’ll see my competitiveness and who I am on the football field. But right now, I’m concerned with playing football.”