Jakahari Howell’s junior season didn’t quite go as planned after the fifth game of the 2012 campaign. Early in the sixth game of the year, during an Oct. 5 matchup against Central Arkansas Christian, the Arkadelphia Badgers quarterback broke his right fibula, and the Mustangs beat the Badgers 7-0, delivering Arkadelphia its first loss of the year.
Through the first five games of the season, Howell was fifth in the state in rushing yards per game, averaging 146.4 yards. He’d also scored 10 rushing touchdowns. One game prior to the Central Arkansas Christian game, Howell had run three times for 114 yards and two touchdowns during a 49-19 romping of Arkansas Baptist as the Badgers improved to 5-0 on the season for the first time since 1987. Passing, Howell had added more than 650 yards and seven touchdowns through five games.
Then came the first-quarter play on a muddy field when Howell broke his ankle.
“After that injury happened, the quarterback coach came to me and told me how I was still going to be a part of the team, and that I needed to lead them through my words and coach them up,” said Howell, who is now fully healed. “[Being on the sidelines] opened my eyes from a coaching standpoint to see all that goes on instead of just playing football from the quarterback position. I could see the whole field.”
Even with the loss of Howell, Arkadelphia, behind junior Kris Oliver in the Wildcat formation, wouldn’t lose another regular season game, entering the Class 4A playoffs 9-1 and with a No. 1 ranking. But Mena upset Arkadelphia in the first round of the playoffs, 42-29, as Howell, still nursing his injury, watched from the sidelines.
“It [stunk] to watch that game knowing there was nothing I could do about it because I was still hurt,” Howell said. “But [that loss] drove me. I play baseball also (batting leadoff and playing center field), and it drove me through the end of football season through baseball and through now. It is just going to drive me even more.”
The 6-0, 175-pound Howell, who runs a 4.5 in the 40, returns as the leader of a Badger team loaded on offense, returning eight starters.
“Our offensive experience is probably a major strength for us,” said Arkadelphia head coach J.R. Eldridge, who is entering his third year as the Badgers’ head coach. “We also have the senior leadership on offense. Jakahari’s got good players around him who are going to complement him as well. Kris Oliver is a great football player. He basically took over for Jakahari last year, so Jakahari has someone in the backfield to take the pressure off of him.”
The Badgers run a hurry-up, no-huddle Spread offense, and Eldridge said he expects a lot out of Howell as his senior quarterback.
“I expect Jakahari to use all the tools he has to be successful,” he said. “Everybody’s got high expectations for Jakahari. Jakahari’s a great athlete; Jakahari’s a great football player; Jakahari’s a great young man. And so I expect him to do similar and even better things than he did last year.”
While Howell found a positive in being injured last season, Eldridge said that Howell’s adversity led to better character development.
“That character that was built in him through his injury and through his having to watch and having to have a good attitude and having to be a positive influence instead of feeling sorry for himself … made him just more hungry for another good season,” Eldridge said.
And that injury drove Howell during the football offseason. Following a disappointing end to the 2012 Badgers football season, Arkadelphia claimed the Class 4A baseball state title with a 5-4, come-from-behind victory over Stuttgart. The state title was the first for Arkadelphia’s baseball program, which was resurrected at the school in 1987.
A state baseball title was a great end to his junior year, said Howell, who also started on the Badger basketball team as a power forward. But Howell is ready for another shot at Class 4A opponents on the gridiron and another opportunity at guiding the Badgers deep into the playoffs.
“We’ve got high expectations,” Howell said. “We have a lot of returning starters on offense and some on defense, so we are really expecting a state championship out of this team.
“My personal goal is to lead this team. It is not really about stats but just leading this team to a victory every Friday night.”
Ouachita Baptist University has offered a scholarship to Howell, who is eyeing kinesiology as a college major and also talking with Arkansas State University. Most schools have told Howell he’d play receiver or safety in college.
First comes the 2013 football season. Eldridge said one of the Badgers’ motivational quotes for the offseason came from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: “Warriors win first and then go to war.” And Howell wins first through his off-the-field leadership before taking the field, Eldridge said.
“First of all, Jakahari is just a great character kid,” he said. “That helps out because … he is going to have a great work ethic and be here every day, and he’s going to be a good leader for us. Second, he is a smart young man, so he is able to take what our coaching staff tells him to do and apply it to the field. Third, he is a great athlete. When he is applying what he has been coached, he makes special things happen because he has that natural athletic ability.
“I wouldn’t trade any football player for Jakahari Howell.”