Howsare wants, and gets, to play pro ball

By Cory Giger

There’s a very high level and fun style of football played in the Canadian Football League, and the money’s pretty good, too, which is an added perk.

When Julian Howsare realized he wasn’t getting the kind of opportunities he wanted to stick around in the NFL, going to Canada was an easy choice.

“For me, it was based off of continuing to play football and chase the dream,” Howsare said. “Just stay playing and always have that opportunity to try to get back to the NFL.”

Howsare, a 25-year-old Altoona Area High School product, is in his first season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the CFL. He signed with the club in February and has played four games this season.

Where Howsare has played is as much a part of the story as anything. He’s a defensive end for the Tiger-Cats, playing on the defensive side of the ball for the first time in his pro career after spending his NFL tenure as a fullback.

Switching to defense was Hamilton’s decision and the reason it wanted to sign Howsare.

“They said they wanted me as a defensive end,” he said. “I knew that if I was going to sign there it would be to play defense again. For me, that’s what I feel natural about, so I was definitely excited about that opportunity.”

Howsare, a 6-foot-3, 255-pounder, played two games as a fullback for the New York Jets in 2016 and also spent time on the practice squad with the Jets and Seattle Seahawks. He was in training camp with the Jets in 2017 but was released in September.

He waited around as long as possible this winter to see if another NFL opportunity would come up, and when it didn’t, he decided to go to Canada.

“We waited until about mid-February until I decided to sign,” he said. “We could have waited and might have gone to camp or sign before OTAs. But at the end of the day, I didn’t want to lose the opportunity to continue to play waiting for something that might not be there.

“Me and my agent, we discussed it for a while because we knew Hamilton had me on their negotiation list, and they had my rights.”

What exactly does that mean?

“Teams in the CFL will put guys on the negotiation list, usually in the NFL if they think there’s a chance they could get released or might end up coming up to the CFL,” Howsare said. “They have their rights, so they can’t sign anywhere else. Hamilton had my rights, so I knew that I could always sign there.”

Howsare played defensive end his first two seasons of college ball at Clarion, so he was very familiar with the position. When he first signed with the Jets in 2015 he was an outside linebacker, but that didn’t last long.

“They switched me about two weeks into my rookie training camp to fullback,” Howsare said. “Ever since then, I haven’t had any looks as an outsider linebacker or defensive end just because I never got any film at the NFL level on it.”

Going to Hamilton and playing defense, therefore, gives Howsare an opportunity to show what he can do on that side of the ball at the professional level.

“It’s huge for me,” Howsare said. “It gives me an opportunity to get film on the defensive side of the ball at the pro level.

“Depending on how things pan out, if I get an opportunity to come back down to play in the NFL, playing fullback is also going to help me because it gives me a little bit of versatility. Teams will see that I can play defense and line up as a fullback, as well.”

Being able to handle anything on the football field is something Howsare has always done well, going back to his prep days at Altoona.

Tom Palfey was Howsare’s head coach with the Mountain Lions and praised the young man for being able to excel on both sides of the ball, doing whatever it took to help the team.

“He definitely had the all-around package,” Palfey said.

“The night I remember most is (a game against) Central Dauphin. I told him he would (carry the ball) 30 times. I think it was 33 for something like that 200 yards. … By himself he pretty much willed that game.”

In four games so far for Hamilton, Howsare has made six tackles, recorded one sack and forced one fumble.

The game is much different in Canada because teams have only three downs instead of four.

“It’s just a faster game,” Howsare said. “They only have three downs, so offenses are definitely forced more to pass. The field’s wider, so there’s more space. They kind of just air it out, spread the field. Hike, one, two, and watch it. It’s a very fast game.

“Me on defense, it’s not too different. It’s fun for me because I’m pass rushing 90 percent of the game.”

Most people don’t realize there’s good money to be made on a practice squad in the NFL, with guys earning $6,600 a week, and the salary going up from there with more experience.

The minimum salary in the CFL is $55,000 per season, so while it’s not NFL money, it’s still a good living playing football.

“It’s good money that you can live off of,” Howsare said. “If you do well up there, those guys can get pretty big contracts. … And at the end of the day, if you’re playing football and getting paid to do it, you can’t beat that.”

Palfey believes Howsare’s move to defensive end “fits his game perfect.”

In that regard, Howsare finds himself in a good position for two reasons.

If he plays well in Canada, then he could have a long career there and continue to make good money playing football. Or, an NFL team could take notice and give him an opportunity.

“Before I got up there, (going back to the NFL) was definitely the plan and how I looked at it,” Howsare said. “But once I got up there and started playing, I don’t really think about that. I just think about doing what I’ve got to do to help the team up there as much as possible.

“Whatever happens, happens, whether I make it a career playing up there for a while or end up getting an opportunity to come back, that’s just something I’ll have to decide when time comes.”

One interesting aspect for Howsare is that he plays on the same team as Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL quarterback Johnny Manziel.

“For the most part he keeps to himself, is quiet, doesn’t say too much, goes about his business and does what he has to do,” Howsare said. “He’s been a great teammate and good guy.

“There’s times when he’ll make throws in practice, and you’re just like, that’s why he’s a Heisman winner. He has all the tools.”

As for his own situation, he’s not playing in the NFL, but Howsare is having a lot of fun with the Tiger-Cats.

“I love it up there,” he said. “It’s a fun game. I’m playing defense again, which is what I love to do. It’s a fun game, and I’m having a blast. It’s everything I expected.”

And if he excels there?

“If they’re willing to keep me up there for a while and give me a good contract and I continue to play well, I definitely could see myself staying up there,” he said.