FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – As Julian Howsare walked into the New York Jets locker room last Wednesday, he walked by fellow rookie Jarvis Harrison, who had a Texas A & M backpack slung over his shoulder and was heading off to the cafeteria. On the other side of the locker room was another rookie, this one first round pick Leonard Williams, who also had on a backpack, this one with a prominent USC logo on its back.
Even veterans, like fifth-year cornerback Darrin Walls, was wearing his Notre Dame cap. But if and when Howsare dons something from his alma mater, many will have a hard time recognizing that the logo of a Golden Eagle with a puffed out chest is for tiny Clarion University.
A school with an enrollment of less than 7,000, Clarion competes in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, a Division II athletic program best known for being where Kentucky basketball head coach John Calipari played his college basketball. Now, Howsare is here in the NFL intent to prove that his small-school pedigree won't be an impediment at this level.
There wasn't much hype about Howsare in high school outside of a recruiting tape entitled 'Julian Howsare gets after it' on his Rivals.com page. One of four brothers, Howsare grew up in central Pennsylvania, smack dab between the football-rich turf that is western Pennsylvania and the recruiting hotbed of Philadelphia. In a no-man's land of sorts, he was a bit overlooked by some of the bigger programs, although Pittsburgh did give him the chance at being a preferred walk-on.
Instead, he took a partial scholarship at Clarion.
“I didn't get a whole lot of help with recruiting in high school. I didn't have a lot of help so it fell through,” Howsare told Metro. “But it ended up working out in the end.”
Here's here with the Jets as a linebacker hopeful, an undrafted rookie free agent and the latest player to come from what would be considered as inferior competition to try and make this team.
There is a pathway for Howsare to make the NFL and there are examples of this inside the Jets locker room. Damon Harrison, the Jets starting nose tackle, came from tiny NAIA program William Penn, a school that never sent anyone to the NFL until his massive frame founds its way onto the 53-man roster.
And then there is Rontez Miles, who actually played against Howsare in college in the same conference and has been on the team's practice squad the past two years.
“You see guys every year that come from small schools, proving that no only can they play but they can make an impact,” Howsare said. “That's motivation for myself. It doesn't matter where you come from, it's what you do now with the opportunity that is presenting itself.”
Throughout the NFL, players such as Brent Grimes of the Miami Dolphins and John Kuhn of the Green Bay Packers, both of Shippensburg, have also found a home in the NFL from the PSAC. Then there is the aforementioned Miles, who is looking to jump from the practice squad to the full roster this season.
Three times an all-conference selection at Clarion, he started to pop onto the radar of NFL teams during his junior year. The Jets were among those teams, even checking out one of his practices from this past fall. From there he then took a strong performance at the regional combine and then at the Pro Day at Villanova to some teams beginning to seriously eyeball him.
A week prior to the draft, the conversations heated up and the Jets were among the teams that called him. They made sure that they had all of his contact information and let him know of their general interest in him.
“I signed with the Jets about 10 minutes after the draft was over. During the seventh round, I was talking with my agents about where I might end up and we talked about the Jets,” Howsare said.
“I just liked what they were about defensively. They definitely showed a lot of interest leading up to the draft. We talked about it and it seemed like the best place for me, the place I wanted to be.”
The other team that the Jets beat out to sign Howsare was the Seattle Seahawks, the NFL's top performing defense last season.