Howze leads young USM football team after earning medical redshirt

LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - For college football players, there isn't much time to kick back and relax during the season.

So when Southern Miss senior linebacker Alan Howze returned to the Mississippi gulf coast Friday to represent the Golden Eagles, he made sure he enjoyed his time near his hometown.

While the 16th annual Beach Bash took place at the USM Gulf Park campus in Long Beach, it's close enough to where he could visit with his family in the city of Ocean Springs, which is where he played his high school football. Howze played both sides of the ball for the Greyhounds and was a three-star recruit from the class of 2010 according to Rivals.com.

The last game Howze will play as a 22-year-old will be Southern Miss' third game of the season -- Sept. 13 at Alabama. The fourth game of the year, a home contest with Appalachian State, will be the first game he'll play after his birthday on Sept. 19. At that point in the season last year in which he was also a senior, Howze suffered a turf toe injury that he never expected would end up being a season-ending injury.

"It was one of those deals where it wasn't getting healthy at all," Howze said. "I had to come to realize that. It's just one of those things you have to deal with getting an extra year. I was bummed out because I wanted to go out with all the players that I came in with, but it's a blessing to be back and I'm excited for it."

"I think he already thought in his mind, 'Hey, I'm a senior. This is the group I'm going out with,'" head coach Todd Monken said. "I think it took him a while to really come to grips with that."

If the tourism management major had played in one more game during the 2013 season, Howze probably would not have been granted a medical redshirt. Through the four games in which he played, the Golden Eagles lost all of them and were outscored 168-38. While Southern Miss only won one of the remaining games -- 62-27 at UAB Nov. 30 -- viewing the games from the sideline helped Howze learn more about his teammates.

"Just watching your team grow is a good feeling," Howze said. "I was able to see [starting quarterback] Nick Mullens grow and see how much more confident he is, C.J. Perry playing linebacker in my spot as a freshman grow as a player, and all those guys. That was one of the best things seeing all those guys on the sidelines mature."

Southern Miss had to mature a little faster than they would've liked because of how many underclassmen were on the field. Heading into 2014, 35 of the 44 players listed on the two-deep depth chart aren't seniors. USM is going to be a young team again, but the experience now might prove beneficial in the upcoming years.

Howze is one of only two players on the current roster who have played for the same coach at Southern Miss for at least two consecutive years. He, along with wide receiver Markese Triplett, played the 2010-11 seasons for Larry Fedora, who accepted a job with North Carolina.

Triplett played the first four games of his junior year in the 2012 season before suffering a season-ending injury and earning a medical redshirt.

Ellis Johnson was hired as USM's head coach for the 2012 season but was fired after the Golden Eagles suffered through an 0-12 season.

Monken was hired prior to the 2013 season. Despite boasting just a 1-11 record in his first year on the job, the players responded much better to Monken's coaching style compared to what Johnson displayed.

"That's another thing is that it's a winning program and it's family," Howze said. "That's the main reason I picked Southern Miss. When I made my visit, I felt like family. Now that we have coach Monken back, it's all about the stability of a program. That builds a powerful program."

"It's hard sometimes when you've already envisioned the end, but it's great for our team and it's great for Alan," Monken said. "He'll get an opportunity to end his career on a high note."