JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Grayson Howard is the personification of Andrew Jackson High School’s transformation in football.
When he arrived as a freshman, he said he wanted to be great, but few would have predicted that from the linebacker.
“He was about 6-foot-2, 170 pounds,” said Jackson head coach Christopher Foy. “I said, ‘OK, let’s get to work.’”
That work included countless hours in the weight room, developing his body and his spirit. It also included Howard developing as a leader. As Howard grew, so did the program.
“It’s not normal to have kids go through so much adversity,” Foy said. “We had a huge turnaround. We didn’t have the facilities. We didn’t have the resources. We didn’t have the equipment. But we had the most important thing: we had the people. The kids had the ‘want to.’”
Howard’s “want to” culminated in a senior season when he averaged over 17 tackles per game and finished with a team-high 18 tackles for loss in addition to five sacks and three fumble recoveries. He also ran in a key touchdown against Raines in the playoffs, the final game of his high school career.
He will represent Jackson one more time: Jan. 7 in the All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas. On Saturday, Howard received his All-American Bowl jersey. Flanked by Foy and former Jackson coach Kevin Sullivan and Howard’s family and teammates, he pulled on the jersey for the first time.
“This means the world to me,” Howard said. “Just being able to go on this trip, hang around elite athletes and be able to practice with them and network a little bit, it’s great. I couldn’t ask for a better gift than this. I can’t thank God enough. It’s a blessing.”
Howard will see some familiar faces at the game. Joining him on the East squad are Trinity Christian running back Treyaun Webb and Westside defensive tackle Jordan Hall.
But it was another former Jackson star whose name kept coming up when discussing the All-American Bowl honor for Howard: Leon Washington.
“He did great things here. He was All-American. Just to be considered in that conversation is a blessing and a testament to the hard work that I put in and the coaches and the teammates that I have,” Howard said.
On the table at the presentation was Howard’s team MVP trophy he received last season. It’s called the Leon Washington Trophy.
Howard will play in the All-American Game and then will head immediately to Columbia, South Carolina, as an early enrollee in college. Also in attendance at the ceremony was Bolles tight end Connor Cox, a fellow South Carolina signee.
“This event was really open to family, coaches, and teammates, and I extended the invite to Connor,” Howard said. “I told him, ‘Hey, we’re family. We’re going to be family. We’re family now. We’re family at the next level.’ I’m close with him and close with his family. I went to the Bolles game last night just for him. The relationship we had just tells how close we’re going to be on the next level.”
That effort to reach out to Cox was not surprising to Howard’s coach. Foy said that Howard’s best skill is that he’s a people person.
He was also a force on the football field. And Saturday, everyone was reminded of that fact.
“It’s a special day in our program,” Foy said.