With New Look, Howard Hoping to Follow Big Footsteps
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Chris Gamble was one of the most unique players in Ohio State history.
He was also one of the most dynamic; a two-way player in an era when they no longer exist.
Though he began his career as a receiver, Gamble’s legacy will most certainly be as a cornerback, where he redefined the position in Columbus.
Nearly a decade after Gamble helped Ohio State win the BCS National Championship, his play is still inspiring a new generation of Buckeyes.
“I kind of went back in the past and noticed that Chris Gamble wore No. 7 and he was from Florida and he played corner too,” redshirt junior Travis Howard said.
“So I kind of wanted to switch that back up because nobody at corner wore No. 7 for a while.”
A product of Dr. Krop High School in Miami, Howard wore No. 18 for his first three years with the Buckeyes, but the 2011 season will be by far the biggest of his career.
After backing up seniors Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence as the team’s No. 3 corner last season, Howard is looking to stake his claim as the next great defensive back at Ohio State.
“I wanted to change my number because I felt like this was a new year and a big start for me,” said Howard, who came to Columbus in the 2008 recruiting class with high school teammate Etienne Sabino.
“So the change to No. 7 was a big part of the whole situation. And I felt like me wearing the No. 7, I had to kind of take on a little more swag and a little bit more playmaking ability because the guys who wore No. 7 the previous years were guys who were playmakers and All-Americans.”
Gamble certainly had the playmaking ability, but that swag attached itself to the No. 7 jersey back in the 1970s when it was worn by Cornelius Greene. A flamboyant player from Washington D.C., Greene became the first African-American quarterback to start at Ohio State under legendary coach Woody Hayes.
The No. 7 is undeniably one of the most significant numbers in school history.
In the 1980s it was worn by Denman “Sonny” Gordon.
In the 90s it was Joey Galloway and Joe Germaine.
During the Tressel era it has been Derek Ross, Ted Ginn Jr. and, most recently, Jermale Hines, who was a standout defensive back for the Buckeyes last season.
That is not something Howard takes lightly as he attempts to secure a spot in the starting lineup this off-season.
“It is a big test for me,” Howard said.
“My coach (Taver Johnson) sat down and told me that wearing this number is not easy, so I had to come in and just show them that I’m able to wear No. 7 and make plays.”
The 6-foot, 190-pound corner showed off his ability to make plays last season with his 30-yard interception return for a touchdown against Penn State. The Buckeyes fell behind 14-3 in the first half, but had rallied to take a 24-14 lead in the fourth quarter when Howard stepped in front of a pass by Nittany Lions’ quarterback Matt McGloin.
In the blink of an eye, Howard was in the end zone and Penn State was finished.
“It helped tremendously because I felt like I knew a lot and I felt like I had a lot of experience,” Howard said of his role as Ohio State’s No. 3 corner last season.
“So coming into this spring my confidence level went up and that allowed me to make a lot of plays.”
That’s exactly what he has done.
Wearing his new number, and channeling his inner Chris Gamble, Howard has been one of the most consistent performers for the Buckeyes in spring where they must replace seven starters on the defense.
That includes both corners from last year, but Howard is more than ready to step on to the big stage after taking over for an injured Chimdi Chekwa in the Sugar Bowl.
“Playing with confidence, it's a whole different ball game, because at first when you go out there and you're kind of young you're kind of timid because you don't know what to expect,” Howard said.
“There's a lot of stuff thrown at you, but you're confident and you know what's going on. The game kind of slows up for you and allows you to make those big plays and kind of gamble a little bit at corner.”
Only a bit though, otherwise there are plenty of guys who would be happy to take Howard’s spot.
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