Penn State Football Senior Day: Ty Has the Longest Commitment ... and Howle
March 24, 2008.
That’s the day Tyler Walker Howle of Bunn, N.C., verbally committed to play college football for The Pennsylvania State University.
Ty wouldn’t actually enroll in Penn State until 10 months later. But his commitment that early spring day has been unyielding.
And continues to be so, 2,070 days later. And counting.
When Howle, the Nittany Lions’ starting center, walks through the south end zone tunnel and onto the Beaver Stadium grass on Saturday as part of Senior Day, it will be for the final time as a Penn State football player.
He has worn that designation longer than any other current Nittany Lion. Among the scores of coaches and players on the Penn State sidelines against Nebraska, Howle has been a part of Penn State football longer than anyone other than assistant coaches Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden.
While those two are the only coaching holdovers from the Paterno Era, Howle is first among equals among the 100 or so players on tomorrow’s Penn State roster. He was the first player among 27 recruits in the Class of 2009 to verbally commit to Penn State. It was a promise he made to Johnson – his main recruiter at the time – and one that Howle reaffirmed again and again.
(For a wonderfully-written, detailed account of how Howle came to sign with Penn State, read this FightOnState.com piece from March 2008 by Mark Brennan by clicking here.)
We won’t recount the complete trials, tribulations and ultimate triumphs that Howle has experienced since then. You know many of them. But the following should give a little insight into Howle Ty saw it.
Howle arrived on campus a semester ahead of time in January 2009, as an early-arrival freshman. He sat out the 2009 season. Then in 2010 and 2011 he was a long snapper for the Lions, earning letters both years. In 2012, he missed the first three games with a pec injury but appeared in the final nine games and eventually resumed his long-snapping responsibilities. He was a key backup last year and, and as he firmly rebuked me in a preseason interview, “Hey, I started the last game against Wisconsin.”
In 2013, he emerged as a leader along a veteran offensive line, a group that has occasionally been maligned. But it is also a group that has led the way for two running backs who both have shots at 1,000 yards. His line has yielded just two sacks over the last 82 passing plays during the past three games. Howle has been the Dutch Uncle of freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who’s six days off from being exactly three-and-a-half years younger than his center. As such, Howle and the O-Line have taken Hack under their collective wing, sheltering him on the field and off, through thick and thin.
With a confident wink and a strong nudge, Howle readily promotes a scruffy persona that says pit beef and down home South. His Twitter bio says, succinctly, “Penn State Football. NC. Enjoy playing in swamps.”
But he sure gets it done in the classroom. Howle earned his degree in kinesiology a semester early, collecting All-Big Ten honors for three straight seasons. Howle entered the 2013 season with a 3.57 GPA as he continued his pursuit of a second degree, in health policy and administration. And he’s made time to serve as head of operations for the Penn State chapter of Uplifting Athletes, which raised more than $110,000 in 2011-2012.
HIGHS AND LOWS
So yes, there have been highs. On the field and off.
“I can’t point out any specific point in time,” he said on Tuesday, when asked for any specific highs. “I had a great time over these past five years. I was asked earlier on in the conference call today what are one of the more memorable wins. That's Michigan (this year) and Wisconsin from last year. That was kind of the build‑up for those seniors and we had a good time.
“So those have been some of the more memorable points as far as wins and stuff like that. But what I’m going to remember a lot is all the time I spent in the locker room and in the building with all my teammates. That’s going to be something that I cherish moving forward."
And there have been scandal lows.
“We’ve put that behind us,” Howle also said on Tuesday. “This whole season we’ve been focused on the next game and this season. So I mean, honestly, we don’t ever really talk about it. We don’t ever mention it. But I know going through it, it’s shaped a lot of us and made us stronger. So we’re happy for the opportunity we’ve had here at Penn State.”
Numbers and dates don’t tell an entire story, but these should provide some context:
On Feb. 21, 2008, the New England Patriots announced that O’Brien was being promoted from coaching assistant to wide receivers coach, directing stars like Randy Moss and Wes Welker. The press release was accompanied by this one-liner from Pats head coach Bill Belichick: “In his first year, Bill made a very positive impact on our offensive staff. We are excited about him building on his experience in the system as he moves into his new role.”
Howle committed to Penn State 32 days later.
Overall, he has been committed to Penn State through six seasons – 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 -- and on the roster for the last five. He’s seen records of 11-2, 11-2, 7-6, 9-4, 8-4 and 6-4.
He’s been on the roster through three wildly disparate head coaches – Joe Paterno (35 games) Tom Bradley (4) and Bill O’Brien (24 by season’s end).
Since he declared himself a Nittany Lion, he’s been preceded by four starting centers – A.Q. Shipley (2008), Stefen Wisniewski (2009), Doug Klopacz (2010) and Matt Stankiewitch (2011-12). Howle finally got the job himself, full-time, in 2013.
He’s seen postseasons with bowl trips. And postseasons without.
He’s seen 400, 409, a farewell speech by a legend, a welcome from an unknown who quickly made a name for himself by restoring Penn State’s name, names on the back of jerseys, No. 42 on the sides of helmets, two wins in OT and one win in four OTs, a very dark season-ender at Wisconsin and a very bright season-ender a year later against Wisconsin.
There was the prayer before the Nebraska game in 2011 and a devil of a call resulting in a loss at Nebraska in 2012. He will now wear his cleats inside Beaver Stadium against Nebraska in 2013.
HOWLE AND PSU: OLD MEETS NEW
With his long hair bunching out from his ball cap, his sometimes gruff but forthright manner in interviews and his fierce loyalty to his school and his teammates apparent every way imaginable, Howle is the bearded, smiling face of the new Penn State. And the old Penn State as well.
Most of all, Howle has loyally shown that he is what Penn State is all about. As much as – or maybe more than -- any other PSU player walking through the south end zone tunnel on Saturday. Others may be close, but in this case it’s a Ty.
Soon, it will all be in his rear-view mirror. Appropriate for a center, huh?
Next Saturday will be Day No. 2,078 – and his last -- as a Penn State football player, although he’ll be a letterman for life.
For No. 60, it’s been a Howle of a ride.