One in a series looking at top recruits for the 2019 football season.
There was the chance to play for Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz’s old coach.
There was the quintessential college-town atmosphere in Manhattan, Kan.
There was the lure of big-time football in the Big 12 conference.
More than anything, though, Downingtown West senior quarterback Will Howard found the recruiting process to be about personal relationships.
“Honestly, it was the people that just stuck with me the whole time throughout the whole process,” said Howard, who committed to Kansas State in late June. “You go through this whole process trying to figure out who was real and who was lying because you know everything goes on.
“But they were just so real to me through the whole process. They wanted to get to know me as a person before me as a football player.”
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Howard, rated as a three-star recruit by rivals.com, was pondering more than 20 offers when he decided to commit to play for Kansas State and first-year coach Chris Kleiman, who won four NCAA Division I FCS titles in five seasons at North Dakota State.
Kleiman’s most famous player at North Dakota State was Wentz, who also happens to be Howard’s favorite player.
“We took a couple plays from Carson Wentz when he was on [with Jon] Gruden,” Howard said of the TV show during which the current Oakland Raiders coach would break down plays with quarterbacks.
Howard, a top student who has a 4.4 grade point-average, according to Downingtown West coach Mike Milano, wrestled with one aspect of the recruiting process.
He had the opportunity to play major-college football at places such as Kansas State as well as Kansas, Cincinnati, Maryland, Minnesota, Rutgers, and Temple, among others.
He also had the opportunity to attend an Ivy League school, with programs such as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale hot on his trail.
“A big part of it for me was the Power Five vs. the Ivy,” Howard said. “I had some of the best schools in the country and some of the best football schools in the country, and it was like, ‘What do I want more?’
“It just came down to, growing up I always watched the big games, I wanted to be in that big atmosphere. It was kind of my dream.”
Howard, who also is a standout basketball player, spent nearly two years in the recruiting process, traveling around the country to attend spring games and summer camps. He visited Georgia, Indiana, Purdue, Penn State, Pitt, Syracuse, Maryland, and Minnesota, among other schools.
“I tried to look at it as this is an opportunity that will never come again,” Howard said. “It’s a lot sometimes when you have to call three people at night and the texting is blowing up your phone.
“But it was a dream come true to take all these visits and meet all these people, experiences I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
“Whenever I felt stressed out, I tried to look at it like, ‘Man, how many other kids would die to be in this position?’ ”
Howard led Downingtown West to a 6-0 start in 2018. But his junior season ended when he suffered a broken right wrist in a Week 7 loss to Ches-Mont League National Division rival Coatesville.
Howard sat out the rest of the season, mentoring converted tight end Ryan Wetzel, who took over at quarterback and helped the Whippets reach the District 1 Class 6 A semifinals.
“It was really frustrating,” Howard said. “I knew I had to be nothing but supportive for the guys. I knew they would do the same for me.”
Milano calls Howard “the most popular kid in the school” and said the star quarterback’s true colors shined through during his time on the sideline.
“He missed one practice when he had surgery,” Milano said. “He was the most positive guy on the team.
“I kept talking to him about how hard it is. It’s human nature almost to know that they can’t succeed without you. That never crept in, ever. He coached and coached and coached. He was amazing.”
Coatesville coach Matt Ortega said the “sky is the limit” for Howard.
“I think his development in basketball has carried over,” Ortega said. “You see him getting better and better as an athlete.”
Settled on his college choice, Howard said he is fully focused on making the most of his final season for Downingtown West.