OGDEN, Utah — Information on Brandon Howe from this year’s Cal Poly football media guide reads something like this: The converted linebacker will backup starting fullback Akaninyene Umoh — and reserves Brent Michaels and Garrett Steele.
Reading like a fourth-stringer, the sophomore from Dana Hills High wasn’t being counted on to contribute much, but there was Howe in Friday’s 45-23 victory at Weber State, showing why he’d assumed the primary backup role by the end of fall camp.
“I just worked hard training,” Howe said. “I wanted it really bad. I wanted to get on the field.”
Starting in place of Umoh, who suffered an injury in practice Tuesday and was ruled out of Saturday’s victory during pregame warmups, Howe was the Mustangs’ second-leading rusher and scored his first two collegiate touchdowns.
Howe led Cal Poly receivers with three catches for 23 yards, including an 8-yard second-quarter touchdown that gave the Mustangs (5-0, 3-0 Big Sky Conference) a 14-13 halftime lead.
His 78 yards on nine carries were second only to Kristaan Ivory’s 89 yards on 10 attempts, and Howe burst free for a 37-yard touchdown run that put the game on ice in the fourth quarter.
Umoh, a junior who went by Gabe when he first arrived on campus, is a first-year starter who was a key reserve the past two seasons. He had been averaging 67 yards through the first four games and had one touchdown each rushing and receiving this season.
His backups were all untested, but Howe received the first chance once the unquestioned starter went down.
“There was no question it was going to be very competitive between Brent Michaels, Garrett Steele, Matt Rulon and Brandon to see who was going be the second guy behind Gabe,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said, “and they competed, and he won the opportunity.
“We don’t get a lot of live turns (in practice). Seeing him play (Friday) answered a lot of the questions we had about him.”
Howe might have started at the bottom of the heap because the others he was competing with all had foundations as an option fullback.
Michaels played in Air Force’s option attack before transferring to Cal Poly prior to last season. Rulon is a walk-on junior who’s played in six games each of the past two seasons. And Steele is a touted recruit from Kingsburg who redshirted at fullback last season.
Howe was a linebacker in each of his first two seasons at Cal Poly, but he was a little uncomfortable there before being moved to offense in the offseason.
“In high school, I played safety and running back so they recruited me as a safety,” Howe said. “They moved me to linebacker right away. I had never played the position before.
“I was alright. It wasn’t my favorite position. I would have preferred safety, but they said I was too big, too slow. So I definitely tried to work on my speed.”
Howe ran for 752 yards and recorded 83 tackles and grabbed two interceptions as a two-way all-Orange County player his senior season at Dana Hills, averaging 6.6 yards per carry and scoring five touchdowns.
Though the Mustangs recruited the 6-foot-2, 220-pound athlete for defense, Walsh always appreciated Howe’s offensive skills.
“The one thing we like about him is he was a one-back tailback in high school, like Gabe,” Walsh said, “and big tailbacks are kind of what we’re looking at for that position, and his ability to run and do those things with tailback instincts is a good thing to have at that position.”
Howe deflected credit after the game, choosing to praise the offensive line that helped pave holes for him to run through.
He said it was disappointing to see Umoh go down, but he appreciated the opportunity to have his own breakout game.
“I was so pumped,” Howe said. “Being back in the end zone for the first time in college, it was a good feeling. I was so happy. I was celebrating with my teammates on the sideline and in the end zone. They were giving me all the love.”