Most college players begin their career without many expectations. Facing competition in college is a big jump for even the most talented high school stars. They are only expected to progress as the years go on.
Miami’s shortstop Kevin Howard did not start off like most freshman ballplayers. As Miami’s starting third baseman in 2000, Howard put up numbers that some college stars never reach in a career.
Howard finished his opening season with a team leading .413 batting average and an on base percentage of almost .500. That earned him the Freshman of the Year honor given by Baseball America, which he says is his greatest accomplishment at UM.
There was one downside to Howard’s great freshman year – his success would be expected for the rest of his college career.
In his sophomore year, Howard’s batting average was the team’s second best and all of his other statistics remained constistent with his previous season.
In the summer of 2001, Howard was selected to play for the USA National Team. He led the team with 18 RBI assisting them to a 21-7-1 record.
“It was the best experience,” Howard said. “Its great playing against guys who are really good and at your level of play.”
Miami baseball coaches noticed that Howard was hitting the ball a lot better when he returned to collegiate competition, according to former teammate and current assistant coach Greg Lovelady.
Howard was named a Preseason Second-Team All American by Baseball America and Louisville Slugger and has been recognized as one of college’s top ranked players.
Now as a junior, it could be said that his roles have changed dramatically. Becoming older and wiser requires him to become more of a leader and model for younger players – hitting successfully off of college pitchers as a rookie changes his current role on offense, and playing defense well from the start makes him available to other positions in the infield.
Entering his third year as a starter, Howard has made an impact on younger teammates because of all his experience.
“Everyday we see him getting better as a baseball player and a leader,” Lovelady said. “He always has confidence that he’ll go out there and do well. Everyone else, especially the young guys, look up to him because of that.
“He did very well his freshman year. But he’s more mature now and more relaxed out there.”
Even after a great rookie season, head coach Jim Morris thought Howard was capable of more.
“In his freshman year we talked about him getting stronger so he could become a more complete player,” Morris said. “But it’s tough to say you expect more from someone who is hitting .413.”
Howard has stood up to the challenge so far, already hitting more home runs (5) than he hit in each of his previous two seasons.
Despite Howard’s increase in home runs and strength added from years of working out, Lovelady still doesn’t classify him as a power hitter.
“He sprays the ball all over the field better than anybody,” Lovelady said. “He’s in there to knock guys in and drive the ball from gap to gap like he always does.”
Howard’s defensive skills have also been outstanding throughout his career at UM.
A diving double play against FIU his freshman year earned a spot on ESPN’s Plays of the Week and this season he started Miami’s first triple play in 20 years during a game against Tennessee.
Howard primarily played shortstop during his high school career, but started third base his first two years with Miami. Recently in a drastic change in the Hurricane infield, Howard returned to shortstop. It is unclear of how long he will remain there, but either way, Howard is content with the Morris’ decision.
“I’ve played both positions so long that I feel comfortable at both places,” Howard said.
Not only does Morris expect Howard to continue his success at Miami, but he also has high expectations for Howard after college.
“It’s good that he’s played both [positions]in college. This will help him out in pro ball.”