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Saying Goodbye to the Most Productive LB of the Gary Patterson Era

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Travin Howard has a lot of good company when it comes to the greatest linebackers of the Gary Patterson era, but there’s a case to be made that he’s the best of the bunch.

NCAA Football: Alamo Bowl-Stanford vs Texas Christian Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For the seniors that played their last game Thursday, another come from behind stunner in San Antonio to secure their second Alamo Bowl victory, there’s plenty to be proud of. 40 wins (despite a losing record a year ago), three bowl wins, including a Peach Bowl victory in decisive fashion, winning one and and playing for a second Big 12 Championship among them. And while there has been plenty of scrutiny around some of the classes’ bigger names (cough, cough, Kenny Hill), the player who may be the best of the bunch is rarely mentioned. And not only is he the best player signed in the class of 2014, he has a claim for a spot as an all-time great, and maybe the best ever at his position, under Gary Patterson. That man, of course, is linebacker Travin Howard, two time Alamo Bowl Defensive MVP, all-time leading tackler of the Gary Patterson era, and one of the best to ever put on the purple and black.

Howard was recruited out of Longview Texas as a safety, a three star prospect with just one other offer, UTSA. He was a late flip, in fact, committing on January 22nd and signing just a couple weeks later. At the time, it looked like another Gary Patterson diamond in the rough find, a talented athlete who was highly productive at the high school level, but flew under the radar due to his lack of size and low profile playing out in East Texas.

But there wasn’t anyone expecting things to turn out like this.

Howard played in all 13 games his freshman year, seeing time on defense at safety and special teams, though he didn’t record a stat. As a sophomore, he started the season on the two deep, behind Denzel Johnson at strong safety, where you might expect a 6’1”, 190 pound sophomore to be. But, by game two, things had... changed.

Remember that opening game in 2015? The one where Mike Freeze and Sammy Douglas started at linebacker and it looked like the Frogs had a formidable 1-2 punch in the middle. Well, in case you have forgotten, Douglas got hurt on the second series of that game and ended up missing the entire season due to injury. Freeze walked away from the team days after the game, disappearing into the mist for reasons that are still mostly unknown. So, suddenly, the Frogs went from a promising corp at linebacker to a bunch of question marks - true freshman Montrel Wilson and redshirt freshman Ty Summers (a former quarterback) were the next men up. Enter Howard, who gave his initial thoughts to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram before TCU’s bowl game this past season.

“I was like, ‘Man, he’s not serious.’ I was like 190 pounds at the time,” Howard said. “But I didn’t think too much about it. I just went in and gave it the best that I had. Threw my body around.”

Travin didn’t start at linebacker the next game, against SFA, but he proved he was ready to with a nine tackle performance off the bench. He would make his first career start the following week against SMU, and start every game from that point on over the next three seasons. In his first year at the position, Howard led the team with 105 tackles, good for fourth best in the conference. He put together double digit tackle games three times, including posting 19 against Baylor and 13 against Oregon in the Alamo Bowl, locking up Defensive MVP honors in the process. In year two, he led the conference by a mile, was top ten in tackles in the country with 130, had double digit stops 8 times - including two games of 15 or more. His senior year, he led the team once again with 108, becoming the first player to lead the Frogs in tackling for three straight seasons, and becoming the all-time leader with 345 career stops - and he did all that despite missing two games due to injury. He was named Alamo Defensive MVP for the second time after recording ten tackles in the Frogs’ victory over Stanford.

His incredible production, accomplished in just three years, begs the question: where does Howard’s career rank amongst Patterson’s all-time greats?

I submit seven names for best Patterson Linebacker of All-Time, listed in reverse chronological order:

  • Travin Howard (2013-2017)
  • PJ Dawson (2011-2014)
  • Tank Carder (2007-2011)
  • Daryl Washington (2006-2009)
  • David Hawthorne (2003-2007)
  • Robert Henson (2004-2008)
  • Jason Phillips (2004-2008)

Best of the Best: Linebackers of the Gary Patterson Era

Name Playing Years Games Started Total Tackles TFLs Sacks INTs PDs FFs
Name Playing Years Games Started Total Tackles TFLs Sacks INTs PDs FFs
Travin Howard 2013-2017 37 345 20.5 5.5 3 10 4
PJ Dawson 2011-2014 18 241 31 6.5 5 8 3
Tank Carder 2008-2011 39 228 25 5.5 4 9 1
Daryl Washington 2006-2009 15 220 20.5 5.5 4 0
David Hawthorne 2004-2007 39 168 22 9.5 1 4
Robert Henson 2005-2008 50 272 27 4.5 4 0
Jason Phillips 2005-2008 50 315 38.5 7.5 2 11

Each of these linebackers has a case, in one aspect or another, for being the best of the best when it comes to linebackers of the Gary Patterson era. Their production certainly speaks for itself, as do their honors and legacies. Each has been named to multiple all-conference teams in their career, and Dawson, Washington, Carder, and Phillips were All-Americans. Each has a conference titles under their belts, many were Bowl Game MVPs - Carder had the game sealing tipped pass in TCU’s Rose Bowl win.

It’s hard to argue one player over another for the best of the bunch, as each had their own unique skillsets that defined their success. But Travin has as good a case as any, and deserves his place among the annals of the all-time greats. Not only was he incredibly productive, but he was an outstanding teammate and leader, sacrificing himself at every turn for the good of the team.

Who would have thought the lightly recruited 190 pound safety out of East Texas would become one of the all-timers? Gary Patterson might have had a clue.

“He helped me win a lot of ballgames,” Patterson said. “You have to admire everything he is. He did it with class. He was a consummate team player, captain, everything. Good dude.”