By CHRIS CHRISTOPHER
It was a homecoming for ex-Asbury Park High School player Ra’Zahn Howard.
Hoping to be chosen in the National Football League’s Supplemental Draft, Howard returned to where he starred for the Blue Bishops. The former Purdue University player worked out in front of nine NFL scouts on NFL Pro Day.
Howard, who played defensive tackle on the Blue Bishops’ 2011 NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I championship team, performed the bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, L drill and shuttle run and did position specific drills and skills June 8.
The draft took place July 14. Howard was not selected. Nor were the five other players who hoped to be drafted. All six were eliglible to be signed by teams as rookie free agents. Clubs that select a player lose a draft choice in the corresponding round of next year’s NFL Draft. Howard and the five other players were not eligible for the league’s standard draft in April.
“Ra’Zahn hosted the day,” Asbury Park coach Tim Fosque said. “He asked us if he could have it here so that his family, friends, fans and our team could watch him work out. It was a real life professional combine day. Typically, the athlete goes to a neutral site, but he was such a hot prospect that the teams came to see him. It was a great day in Asbury Park for Ra’Zahn, his family, his fans and a great day for the student-athletes of Asbury Park to see one of their own tested.”
Howard, a defensive lineman. was signed by the Houston Texans on the same day as the draft. He reportedly received a signing bonus and is on the team’s 90-man roster. In published reports Howard said he was looking forward to playing.
“I’m ready to get out there and show everybody what I can do and make the Houston Texans proud,” he said. “I’m a big, athletic guy. I’m a disruptive nose guard. I want to make a name for myself at nose guard. I feel like I can come in right away and make an immediate impact. I can play all four positions on the defensive line, but nose guard is my best position. I’m stout against the run. I’m explosive. I’m an athletic nose guard. I like lining up in the middle of the defense, but I’m versatile. I see myself doing big things in the NFL once I get myself established.”
Howard admitted he had a sluggish NFL Pro Day workout. NFL teams were concerned about his conditioning when he didn’t compete all of the drills with much tempo. The 6-foot 3 1/2 Howard was roughly 325 pounds, but says he’s now down to 317 pounds and recently ran the 40-yard dash in 5.2 seconds. He hope to report to training camp later this month at roughly 310 pounds.
“The Texans wanted to take me in draft–I heard in the third or fourth round–but my Pro Day wasn’t too good,” Howard said. “I wasn’t in shape to be honest with you. My whole situation–leaving school, everything with my academics, it all weighed on me. I wasn’t ready, but I’m getting in good shape now. I’m working very hard.”
Howard’s agent is Safarrah Lawson.
“We had some other opportunities,” Lawson said, “but we felt like Houston was the best situation for him. Houston got a real steal. This kid is big, only 21, raw and talented. He really flashes on tape. Once he gets his conditioning where it needs to be, Houston will get one heck of a football player. He’s ben working out twice a day since the Pro Day. He’s lost seven pounds since then and is getting in good shape.”
Howard played at the same college as Houston general manager Rick Smith, a former strong safety and team captain for the Boilermakers.
“Yes sir, he mentioned that,” Howard said. “I had a great conversation with Rick Smith. He’s a great guy. I’m excited. I can’t wait to meet him and the rest of the staff.”
Howard, a law and society major, was suspended from Purdue in January because of academic reasons and decided it was time to launch his bid to hook up with an NFL team rather then sit out one year to transfer to continue playing college football. He announced in June his intention to transfer from Purdue.
Howard talked to several persons about playing in the NFL. Among them was Vinny Curry, the former Neptune standout who is a defensive end with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Howard has also competed in boxing, wrestling and basketball. He began his football career as a junior.
As a senior, he was named the Shore Conference Class B Central Defensive Player of the Year and third-team all-state with 68 tackles, 12 sacks, 15 quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles and 31 tackles for yards lost. He had 57 tackles and 10 sacks as a junior.
At Purdue last season, he appeared in 12 games, registering 11 solo tackles and 12 assisted stops, one sacks for three yards lost, 1 1/2 tackles for three yards lost, one fumble recovery and four pass deflections.
In three years with the Boilermakers, Howard played in 29 games. He wound up with 24 solo stops, 23 assists, three sacks for 13 yards lost, 3 1/2 tackles for 13 yards lost, one fumble recovery and four pass deflections.
“I’ll say this: if a scout were to ask me–or an NFL head coach or GM (general manager) or a position coach–how I describe myself,” Howard said, “I would say I am stout against the run–big and stout against the run–and an athletic type of nose guard. And I can do a lot of different things in the middle. I bring excitement, power and explosiveness to the position, and I’m able to do a lot of things. I’m versatile and still moldable.
“I’m still able to learn things. I see myself–God willing and if God blesses me–I see myself being one of the premier guys in the league in two years, definitely.”
NOTE: houstonchronicle,com, cbssports.com and purdue.com contributed to this report. Howard could not be reached for comment by The Coaster.