Sarasota High junior defensive lineman Gerome Howard has only been playing football for two years.
SARASOTA — It was the first day of a new beginning.
But for Gerome Howard, the thought of trading in the diamond for the gridiron proved nothing short of daunting.
Everyone always assumed the then Sarasota High freshman played football because of his frame; but in reality, Howard actually knew next to nothing about his new sport.
Howard attended his first football practice with the Sarasota Seminoles two years ago and was quickly dubbed a lineman.
“I was scared that first day because I didn’t know anybody,” Howard says. “I didn’t really like it. I didn’t like all of the running, and I didn’t want to hurt other people because I was so much bigger than everyone else.”
It wasn’t until midway through the Seminoles' undefeated season that Howard started to find enjoyment from being out on the field. He started learning more about his position and gradually saw improvement from week to week.
“I wasn’t getting beat by the offensive linemen all the time anymore,” Howard says.
After one season with the Seminoles, Howard made the Sailors varsity squad last season, playing on Sarasota’s defensive line.
In his first season at Sarasota, Howard had to adjust to the size of the players he was lining up against along with the speed of the game.
While the Sailors didn’t produce a winning season on the field, last season laid the developmental groundwork for Howard.
In addition to furthering his knowledge on the field, Howard spent ample time strengthening his body in the weight room to prepare for the brunt of the high school season.
When he first entered the weight room last season, Howard’s maximum bench press was 135 pounds and his squat was 150 pounds — both of which proved challenging early on.
Now, after retooling his focus this summer, the 6-foot-4, 272-pound Howard is able to bench 315 pounds and squat 425 pounds.
In addition to spending time in the Sailors weight room, Howard also trains on his own at YouFit, where he runs on the treadmill and also benches weight.
“I got the technique down now,” Howard says. “My lifting has gotten a lot more intense, and I’m in the weight room more now. I was really weak back then, but now I’m stronger and faster.
“I just wanted to get more in shape because I was kind of out of shape,” Howard says. “I wanted to be prepared because I’m growing into football still.”
Howard will lead the Sailors back onto the field Aug. 28 when Sarasota travels to Cape Coral for its season opener.
"It's been a joy to have him play and watch him grow," coach Brian Ryals says. "He's a critical component to our success. He can run and he has great hands. He's a special makeup of a young man, and he still has room to grow. It's special to see him realize his own potential."
After a disappointing 2-8 finish last season, Howard hopes to provide the Sarasota community with plenty to cheer about this season.
After all, that’s what makes the whole experience worthwhile.
“I like the butterflies that I get in my stomach and being with my teammates,” Howard says. “It’s exciting, especially when you’re playing at home, to hear the crowd cheering. It brings a smile to my face.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].
IN HIS OWN WORDS
If you weren’t a lineman, what position would you want to play?
A: Tight end, so I can catch the ball.
Who is your favorite player?
Gerald McCoy. He plays the same position as me, and he’s been to the Pro Bowl. I try to do what he does.
Who is the one player on this team that may not get all of the notoriety, but is instrumental to the team’s success?
A: Matthew Ginquitti. He puts in a lot of hard work.
What’s your favorite pregame meal?
A: Cheese pizza. It’s my favorite food.
Have you broken any bones?
A: I broke my hand. I hit it on a helmet on the last play of the Pop Warner season freshman year.
Do you have any pregame rituals?
A: I listen to rap music.
What game on the schedule are you looking forward to the most?
A: Riverview. That’s our rival.