Central quarterback Jamal Howard understands the pressure that comes with his position.
They're are all the things he is responsible for: running the huddle, making pre-snap reads, distributing the football and keeping everyone on the same page when the going gets tough.
Even things he's not really responsible for, he's still responsible for. He's the quarterback, and that comes with the territory.
"When things are going good, everyone loves the quarterback," he said. "When things are going bad, they don't. It all falls on the quarterback, because he's the leader of the team."
And Howard wouldn't want it any other way.
While many shy away from pressure or responsibility, Howard said that he thrives on it.
"I do," he said. "That's what drives me to do well."
A first-year starter for the Red Devils, Howard, a junior, could be facing more pressure because of the player he is replacing. Jonathan Wallace, who starred on the team last
season, is now at Auburn University, where he impressed his new coaches during preseason practices.
Even that, though, hasn't had an effect on him, Howard said.
"I don't think about it," he said. "I hear about it a lot, but I try not to think about it. I just want to do what the coaches teach me and try to be successful."
In other words, Jamal Howard is trying to be Jamal Howard, and he's off to a good start.
In his first time against Russell County last week, he completed 9 of 13 passes for 206 yards and a touchdown, adding 33 more yards and a score on the ground.
Red Devils coach Woodrow Lowe said that Howard did some good things, but it wasn't a surprise. Coaches knew Howard was the next guy in line coming into the season. They expected the progress and, potentially, the success.
"We expected him to be ready, and he's going to get better," Lowe said. "All we have to measure it by are the games, really, and we've only had one of those. This week will be a big game to find out the reality of, not just him, but our whole team."
That game will be against Carver-Montgomery tonight, a team that is ranked No. 6 in Class 6A by the Alabama Sports Writers Association.
And again, there's the pressure.
Carver-Montgomery counters Howard with their own skilled quarterback in Jeremy Johnson, a four-star recruit who has committed to Auburn, according to Rivals.com.
Lowe said that, while the game will be a gauge for his team's progress, he doesn't really look at it like there's more pressure than usual.
"We know what we have to do," he said. "We've played against good players in the past, so this doesn't add pressure."
Howard acknowledged that perhaps the game carried more weight, but, to him, it's just an opportunity to prove himself in a big game.
"I don't put pressure on myself to match him or anything," he said in reference to Carver-Montgomery's quarterback. "I like it, because of the talk about how good he is. And he is, obviously. But it just helps me to step my game up."
It would be a perfect time to elevate his performance. It's a big game because of the lofty ranking, but also because it's a region game.
Winning will require a strong performance from Howard, stronger than he has shown thus far, Lowe said. He wants to see the quarterback improve his accuracy and decision-making. More than anything, he can't turn the ball over.
Howard points to the mental aspect of his game as an area he wants to improve.
"Sometimes it can get rough," he said.
"I need to be able to, if I have a bad play, get past it and focus on executing the next time out."
And while he won't be facing Carver's Johnson head-to-head, necessarily, he will still need to match the play of the opposing quarterback.
Howard says his team is ready.
"Carver-Montgomery is getting the hype in this game," he said. "They're a really good team, and everyone wants to know what Central is going to do. We're trying to go out there and win."
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571
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