When longtime Bunn, N.C., High School football coach David Howle got the call to help coach in the inaugural Under Armour Al-American Football Game in January, his son, Ty, tagged along and got to hang out with some of the offensive linemen, including Penn State recruit Matt Stankiewitch.
‘‘He’s cool,’’ Ty Howle said. ‘‘I talked to him. We didn’t really talk football or about Penn State.’’
That’s because the younger Howle didn’t know at the time that he was getting acquainted with a future linemate. About a month later, on Valentine’s Day, Nittany Lion assistant coach Larry Johnson offered the 6-foot-2, 295-pound junior center a scholarship, and, on Monday afternoon, near the conclusion of a weekend visit, Howle accepted to become the first member of what promises to be a large 2009 Penn State recruiting class.
‘‘When I went up there, everything just felt right. Penn State was just the school for me,’’ said Howle, who cited the academics, tradition, family atmosphere and relationship with the players as the program’s biggest selling points.
Howle, a first-team all-state selection following last season when his Wildcats finished 9-3, also had offers from Navy and East Carolina at the time of his decision. Georgia Tech was believed to be on the verge of offering if the Yellow Jackets could have gotten him on campus this upcoming weekend.
There is reason to believe the Lions might have beaten the rush of school’s to show interest. ESPN has Howle on its top 150 watch list describing him on its Web site as ‘‘a John Deere plowing the field of defensive linemen.’’
ESPN’s evaluation goes on to say Howle is a ‘‘formidable base blocker that comes out of his stance determined to knock the noseguard or defensive tackle into the secondary. Churns feet and with low center of gravity, simply isn’t satisfied until the defender is well out of the play or on his back. Defensive linemen are at a distinct disadvantage and cannot win the battle of low pads.’’ Despite that, there are colleges that would shy away from Howle because of his height and his 5.4-second time in the 40-yard dash.
Penn State, though, didn’t seem to mind.
‘‘We sent a tape, and Coach Johnson called and said ’I really like him. He’s the type of center we like at Penn State. I want Coach [Dick] Anderson to see the tape, and I’ll call you back Monday,’’’ David Howle recalled. ‘‘I turned on my cell phone one afternoon while I was eating lunch with Ty, and it immediately started ringing. It was Coach Johnson. He said, ’We can’t wait until Monday. We want to offer right now.’’’
‘‘It just came out of the blue,’’ Ty Howle added. ‘‘I just got the form letters they send to everyone before that.’’
Howle, who won’t turn 17 until Aug. 20 and is considering enrolling in January, not only has the disposition of a road-grader, he has the strength to be one. A weight-room warrior when not on the field, he has a maximum bench press of 410 pounds and has lifted 225 pounds 22 times in preparation for the upcoming Shrine Bowl combine.
‘‘I really get pumped up for a game, going looking for a win and coming out finding it,’’ Howle said. ‘‘As a player, what gets me excited is really pancaking somebody.’’
David Howle said he never expected his son to grow to his present size — he is only 5-8 and his wife, Jane, is only 5-5. But Jane Howle was a 4.0 student at Clemson, and Ty, who is thinking of majoring in chemistry, seems to be following suit. He’s carrying a 4.2 GPA and scored 1,250 on the math/verbal portion of the PSAT.
‘‘He’s a smart kid,’’ David Howle said. ‘‘He’s been reading defenses all his life.’’
That’s because he’s been around his dad’s teams all his life. David Howle has been guiding Bunn for 20 years, and he has even coached current Penn State players Quinn Barham and Kevion Latham in all-star competition.
In fact, Latham might be one of the biggest beneficiaries of Ty Howle’s decision.
‘‘My wife told Kevion she’d bring up some Southern barbeque when we came up to visit,’’ David Howle said. ‘‘Kevion said he missed it.’’