Senior two-way star leads Liberty into ‘the gauntlet’
ARGYLE — When Liberty Christian quarterback Colby Moore decided to transfer from Springtown, it didn’t take him long to find a new running buddy.
An intense competitor, Moore found someone like himself to work out with, and what started as a preliminary introduction from senior running back/safety JonAaron Howell when Moore arrived became much more than that.
“I didn’t know anybody coming to this school,” Moore said. “[Howell] was one of the first kids that came up and introduced himself. Now we’re very competitive. From the classroom to the field, the weight room or just running. We’re going to try to beat each other. It pushes us a lot.”
The two became fast friends and also the fastest two Warriors, as they needed five tries in the 40-yard dash over the summer to decide who was faster. They couldn’t. Both ran it in 4.39 seconds.
“Colby just told me the other day he has five more yards rushing than JonAaron,” Liberty Christian coach Greg Price said. “They love to compete. It started with 40s, then it was power cleans, then it was bench press. Now it’s about rushing yards. It’s not selfish. It’s a fun, respectful competition with each other that only helps the team.”
In retrospect, Moore could not have found anyone better than Howell to work with when he arrived on campus. Moore found a new friend and stays at the Howell house a few nights a week instead of driving back and forth every day from Springtown. Howell, whose father, Eric, is the Warriors’ defensive tackles coach, has been a key member of the Warrior squad since he was a freshman starter on defense.
Now a senior, Howell is getting his first chance to be a full-time running back and is a key contributor at safety. After serving primarily as a third-down back last season and a full-time defensive starter, Howell is taking his breathers on defense this season, and it’s easy to see why.
The speedy, shifty running back has racked up 655 rushing yards on 107 carries with seven touchdowns. He also has three receiving touchdowns with 199 receiving yards.
“Any play he could score,” Moore said. “A lot of times I’ll hand it off and he’ll get blown up and somehow spin out of it and get an extra 15 yards. He’s amazing when he has the ball in his hands.”
One of those plays Howell scored on was particularly amazing, according to his quarterback and his head coach, whose blood pressure might have been a bit elevated as he watched the play unfold from the sideline.
It was one of Howell’s four touchdowns in a come-from-behind 38-35 victory over Sanger in which Howell racked up 215 yards of offense. With just more than seven minutes remaining, Moore threw a swing pass to Howell and thought he’d overthrown it. Price thought so, too. Howell thought differently. He caught the ball on his fingertips and scampered 54 yards for a game-tying touchdown.
“I knew I threw it a hair too far, and he just barely caught it,” Moore said. “It was a game-changing moment. Everyone thought I threw a great ball, but I really didn’t. JonAaron saved my butt on it, and it led us to a win.”
As great as Howell has been on offense this season, he’s been making an impact for a much longer time on defense. He’s played cornerback in the past, is playing safety this season and the coaching staff has toyed with moving him to linebacker.
On the season, Howell has 45 tackles with a team-high six interceptions. He’s returned three of those picks for touchdowns, including two in last week’s rout of Plano John Paul II.
“Those kinds of plays are so huge,” JonAaron Howell said of the interceptions. “One was in the end zone and I picked it off the other night. I didn’t score but we ended up scoring on offense, so that was a 14-point swing. We took away seven and gained seven. It’s a huge momentum killer.”
Eric Howell said that considering how hard his oldest son has worked over the course of his career, it is no surprise he makes big play after big play.
“If you practice and work out that way, then when the opportunity arises you can rise to the challenge,” said Eric Howell, whose younger son Kyleb is a sophomore linebacker and the team’s second-leading tackler with three picks of his own. “Because he’s worked so hard, he’s very explosive and very fast. When you’re that and those opportunities come up, you can really take advantage of them. When you’re faster than everyone else and that explosive, there’s plays that seemingly other people wouldn’t be able to make that he’s able to make.”
Added Price: “You need a big play, you just call on JonAaron. He’s the guy that’s going to give you the chance.”
To JonAaron Howell, there is no doubt Moore’s addition to the team has helped give him that extra edge. Those two will be spearheading the Warriors’ effort over a three-game stretch to close the season, starting with tonight’s game against Addison Trinity Christian. After that, Liberty (5-2, 2-1 district) will play Fort Worth Nolan and Dallas Bishop Lynch. Price and his players call it “the gauntlet,” and Howell said he’s ready.
“We haven’t scored a point on Nolan in two years,” JonAaron Howell said. “It’s been really challenging. I haven’t beaten Nolan since I’ve been in high school, so I really want to beat them. Coach Price talks about these [three] games. I love the competition. I’m excited for the gauntlet.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.