Austin Howard had been waiting for this moment his entire life.
As he stood in the stadium tunnel, he could see the field in front of him and his teammates waiting for him. Fireworks and puffs of smoke shot into the air as players took their turns running out.
And then, Howard heard his name.
For the first time in a Jets uniform, Howard ran out of the MetLife Stadium tunnel as a member of the starting offense.
It was only a preseason game, but it was an emotional experience nonetheless.
“It was an absolute blessing. That was something I’ve always dreamt of as a kid: just coming out of that tunnel with the smoke and the crowd cheering. It was an unbelievable experience. Something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. My first time coming out and being announced, it was just amazing.”
All eyes were on Howard Sunday night.
But as his mother told Newsday Saturday, scrutiny is nothing new for her 6-7, 330-pound son.
After supplanting veteran lineman Wayne Hunter as the Jets’ new starting right tackle, the 25-yeard-old was charged with blocking 6-2, 285-pound defensive end Charles Johnson. After signing a $76 million contract – the largest deal ever for a Panther – Johnson is now, to his chagrin, referred to as “Big Money.” And as a result, his goal in every game is to prove he’s worth every penny of his six-year deal.
There were nerves, Howard admitted after the game. But during the Jets’ 17-12 loss to Carolina, the young right tackle didn’t show it. And unlike Hunter, who allowed 2.5 sacks against the Giants (and another that was nullified), Howard didn’t give up any.
“I have pre-game jitters for every game,” said Howard. “We all knew going out there, that we had to go out, do our best and improve as an offense. And we did that tonight.”
But while the right tackle refused to give a personal assessment until he goes over the film with the coaching staff, Howard’s play earned him props from several teammates. Including wide receiver Santonio Holmes.
“Austin Howard did an amazing job tonight,” he said.
The Jets had allowed 12 total sacks in the team’s previous two games, but the starting offensive line (see: left guard Matt Slauson) allowed only one sack in the first quarter.
“I was just proud of our offensive line,” said quarterback Mark Sanchez. “I was proud of the way Austin Howard competed. That’s not an easy spot to jump into. I saw things clear, went through my progressions, checked the ball down, ran it when I had to, and for the most part, made pretty good decisions. That’s all you can do.”