When Tracy Howard announced on National Signing Day he wanted to be a Hurricane, the All-American cornerback didn't mention anything about coming in as a freshman and being content with sitting on the bench.
"I'm not really a guy who is going to talk and say I'm going to start. It's up to me to produce," Howard said moments after the ink dried on his signed national letter of intent back in February. "But do I feel like I'm going to produce and show out, compete and work hard? Yes, I do. And if I do that I'm going to start."
Despite earning a coveted black jersey (worn by starters) on the fifth day of training camp, Howard still hasn't won a starting job at Miami in his first season.
In fact, since getting in for 100 combined snaps in UM's first three games, Howard has seen his playing time dwindle. After not playing at all on defense in UM's fourth game of the season at Georgia Tech (defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio said he didn't want his young players to get thrown off by an option offense), Howard has played just roughly 40 combined snaps over his last three games.
Why the reduction in playing time? UM coach Al Golden has never provided specifics, saying simply on Sunday that Howard "hit a wall" and has now started to respond in the past couple weeks.
Truth is, there were a couple layers to that wall.
First, between his disappointment of not being able to earn a starting job and the frustration of seeing his playing time get reduced, Howard admitted Wednesday he lost focus and confidence.
In the end, Howard also ended up exchanging words with his coordinator. "It was nothing disrespectful," Howard told The Miami Herald. "Just a coach and a player talking football."
Whatever that conversation turned out to be in the end, Howard has responded the way D'Onofrio has wanted him to over the last couple weeks. D'Onofrio said Monday Howard has "been dialed in" and has made a commitment to practicing better, particularly the last two weeks.
And that's ultimately why Howard got in for 20 snaps last Saturday against North Carolina (more than he had in his previous two games). Howard responded by making an impressive tackle on Tar Heels running back Gio Bernard near the Canes' sideline -- one of his five tackles on the season.
"I wasn't all the way locked in," Howard said when asked what Golden meant when he said he had 'run into a wall.'
"I was just coming out and playing with talent. Talent isn't really enough. You have to work on the little things - simple things like having your eyes on your luggage, keeping your eyes on keys, just real small things I had to pick up, things preventing me from being the starter off the bat. But I think I've picked it up. I think everything is going to get flowing."
At Miramar High, Howard earned a reputation for being a hard worker, who studied lots of film and prepared himself for every opportunity. He was tabbed by almost every recruiting outlet as the nation's No. 1 high school cornerback because of that -- and because of what he did during his career for the Patriots, finishing with 18 interceptions in three varsity seasons.
Howard said freshman safety Deon Bush, who has made four starts and is tied for eighth on the team with 24 tackles, has helped keep him centered through his struggles this season.
"Me and Deon are the best of friends," Howard said. "He's told me just put your head down, pray and keep chopping away."
Howard (5-11, 185) said although this season hasn't panned out exactly the way he's wanted it to for himself, he's going to continue to work to earn a starting job.
"I know in my heart one day my time is going to come and I'll make the best of my opportunity," Howard said. "Everything will be just like high school all over again."
Asked if he's considered leaving UM at all because he hasn't played as much as maybe he would like or thought he would, Howard responded: "No. No way."
"This is my hometown, my team, my city," Howard said. "I'm not going anywhere."