ORLANDO — If there was any doubt as to how much of a priority Miramar cornerback Tracy Howard is for the UF coaching staff moving forward, Saturday night put a swift end to that debate. No less than six Florida coaches sat in the stands for the FHSAA Class 8A final between Tampa Plant and Miramar at the Citrus Bowl, as Howard and his teammates battled for a state championship.
For a good portion of the game, Florida coach Will Muschamp sat next to Shaiy Howard, the mother of the All-American defensive back as secondary coach Travaris Robinson was never more than an earshot away from the group.
“It was good, we had a great time,” Shaiy Howard said of the conversation she had with Muschamp and Robinson. “We just had fun and enjoyed the game together. We didn’t talk about too much.”
At the end of the night, the Patriots dropped a 31-20 decision to close out the senior campaign of Tracy Howard at Miramar High School. Still, he was able to provide some perspective on a brilliant high school career, even in defeat.
“I had the time of my life. It was the best season I ever had – both individually and with these guys,” Howard said after the game.
The Gators figure to be one of the key programs in the mix for Howard going forward, and he admitted to having a strong bond with the Florida coaches. In particular, Howard and Robinson seemed to have struck a chord with one another.
“We have a great relationship,” Howard said. “[And] I like Florida a lot.”
Don’t expect a pack of Florida coaches sitting in the stands of a game to have a huge impact on Howard’s decision. Still, the move clearly didn’t go unnoticed by the 5-foot-11, 175-pound corner.
“They’re going to do what they’ve got to do to get you to their school,” Howard said. “I’m sure Florida State would have done it if they have a chance.”
Even Marcus Maye, a Florida commitment projected to play safety in Gainesville, made an appearance in the stands on the Miramar side in a show of support for a fellow recruit that he has become friends with over the course of the decision-making process.
“We built a great relationship at ‘The Opening.’ Not just recruiting-wise, but just with the kind of guy he is,” Howard said. “We built a good friendship off-the-field also.”
But with Miramar making a deep run into the playoffs, Howard has had to sort of slide his recruitment to the back-burner through the fall. After he competes in the Army All-American Bown on Jan. 7 in San Antonio, he will look to take his three remaining official visits in the weeks leading up to National Signing Day on Feb. 1.
For now, it appears two schools have locked down reservations from Howard, although nothing is set in stone quite yet.
“I’m going to go to Alabama and LSU,” Howard said. “I’m going to have one other visit. I have to see what my parents think about that [one].”
Howard, who already made visits to West Virginia (the weekend of Oct. 7) and Florida State (Nov. 11), admitted Florida is in the mix for his final travel plans. However, already being quite familiar with the UF campus and surroundings, he may elect to go elsewhere for that last trip.
“I might take a visit to USC,” he said. “I’ve been to Florida so many times, why take an official visit?”
At the end of the day, regardless of what school he picks, Howard doesn’t seem to stressed about the choice he will eventually have to make.
“I don’t feel like I can go wrong with any school,” Howard said. “I just want it to be like a family bond – a place that feels like home.”
Oh, and what about the matter of that little ‘gator chomp’ Howard did on Saturday night? You know, the one that came after his first-quarter interception (to give Howard 10 picks on the year) and was highly-visible on the Fox Sports Florida broadcast of the game. Was Howard showing his hand at all with a possibly calculated move?
“They were in the stands, I had to show them some love,” Howard said with a laugh. “I appreciated them being in the stands with my Mom, so I had to do something to give back to them.”
Maybe not then. Regardless, the pursuit of Howard continues. There’s no assurance Florida will land the blue-chip corner at this point. But if nothing else, Saturday night gave the UF coaches a chance to make the first shot across the bow in the battle for what should prove to be one of the most hotly-contested recruiting races in the weeks leading up to National Signing Day.
Justin Wells hosts a weekly recruiting video chat with Andrew Spivey on Tuesday nights from 8:30-9:30 p.m. EST. You can view the show live on the Gator Country TV page. You can also e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org—or follow him on twitter @j_wellsGC.