That would be Alton “Pig” Howard, who met with the media Monday morning for the first time since leaving the Vols last spring to address what head coach Butch Jones called “personal circumstances.” Like his Biblical counterpart, Howard is thrilled to be back in the fold after an ill-fated estrangement from the program.
“You've got to live it, love it, like it," he said, noting that Jones “preaches on it each and every day. Some do. Some don't. Regardless, you have to discipline yourself.”
"I live it, love it and like it,” he said. “Yes, I do."
Whereas the prodigal son of Biblical fame returned to cheers from everyone but his older brother (and presumably the fatted calf), Howard’s return is being cheered by everyone but the SEC defensive backs who must try to cover him this fall. The 5-foot-8, 187-pounder led the Vols in receptions (44) and receiving touchdowns (3) as a sophomore last fall. He also distinguished himself running jet sweeps and the Vol version of the wildcat package, averaging 5.2 yards per carry on 18 rushes.
Howard should be even more productive this fall because of the weapons around him. Last season he and Marquez North were the only dependable receiving threats. Jason Croom, Josh Smith and Johnathon Johnson have improved markedly since then. The addition of 2014 signees Von Pearson, Josh Malone and Vic Wharton has further upgraded a position that was alarmingly weak last fall.
“We’ve got more depth, we’re more explosive, we’ve got more playmakers,” Howard said. “We can move guys around. Overall, I think we bring more to the table.”
Howard spent the past four months “staying focused on what I needed to do academically and staying on top of all my problems.” He did not specify what those “problems” were but believes he’ll be able to focus his full attention on football this fall. That will make him more productive, as well.
“Dealing with things outside of football, your mind stops your feet and that slows you down,” he said. “Being focused and tuned in on what you have to do will take your game to a higher level.”
Though pleased with Howard’s focus to date, Jones said the challenge is “to keep it up for an entire length of a football season." Still, the head man is proud of Howard for completing Step One of the journey.
"It starts with him first and foremost," the coach said. "It's self-accountability but also it's his teammates of holding him accountable. Some of those player-staff meetings were very, very intense. They laid out a structure, they laid out a plan that he had to adhere to, and they held him accountable."
Howard realized his career was at a crossroads but never felt it was at an end.
"Not at all,” he said. “Regardless of whatever was being said I kept my mind focused and I just worked hard to get back."
Now that he’s back he hopes to focus on the future.
“The past is the past,” he said, echoing what prodigal sons always say.
Alton Howard video interview