When Larry Scott was hired as the new head football coach at Howard University in February 2020, he brought excellent credentials, having served at some Power 5 schools as an assistant and even a short stint as interim head coach at the University of Miami. So, while mulling over some other considerations as top assistant, Scott opted to take the Howard offer to head up the program.
It would not be an easy task. The previous head coach was relieved of duties midway through the season and the interim coach kept it together during the five games. It was a disastrous season as the team finished. As if that was not enough, 26 players transferred and then along came COVID-19.
But Scott was not discouraged and was determined to rebuild the program. During his first full season, he essentially laid the groundwork by implementing his philosophy of resiliency and accountability.
Then during last season, there was the turnaround he had been working toward. Howard finished 5-6 but more importantly, 4-1 in conference play, which helped the program finish in a tie with North Carolina Central for the co-championship.
The loss to North Carolina Central prevented the Bison from reaching the ultimate goal: the Celebration Bowl between the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) champions and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) champion.
Players and coaches alike were determined to make that dream a reality, and on Saturday, Nov. 18, Howard finally accomplished that goal, defeating Beltway rival, Morgan State, 14-7, at Greene Stadium to capture the regular season title and a trip to the Bowl, which will be played before a national television audience in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on ABC.
Ironically enough, the tables were turned as last year, it was North Carolina Central who got the nod in the tie by handing the Bison their only defeat.
“When I took this job, I have been saying all along that here at Howard, we are not just building a winning team; we are building a program,” declared Scott in his football ministry. “It’s all about being resilient and being accountable.”
The game against the program was symbolic of Howard’s journey to this point. The season started out with one of the most challenging schedules in recent history, with games against NCAA Football Subdivision schools, Eastern Michigan and Northwestern and nationally ranked Harvard. With the exception of the Harvard game, the Bison were in a position to win those two important games but fell just short each time.
Then came the gauntlet of highly competitive games within the MEAC. The conference opener against Norfolk State at Howard and the game at Delaware State were both decided at the end of the game with interceptions that preserved the victories and allowed the Bison to stay in the hunt for their quest.
Then came what could have been a serious setback to their hopes when they dropped a 27-21 decision at South Carolina State.
It added even more pressure to the task at hand when they faced the North Carolina Central Eagles, reigning MEAC and Celebration champion and seventh-ranked team in the NCAA’s Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). But to the surprise of many except Coach Scott and his coaches and athletes, the Bison won convincingly with a 50-20 win that was never in question. That victory put them where they wanted to be.
With a win against Morgan State, the mission would be accomplished. But it would not be an easy task. The Bears were a formidable force, sharing the same 3-1 conference mark, boasting one of the top defenses in the FCS and a chance to finish as co-champions.
Howard set the tone early, taking their first possession and embarking on one of its patented long scoring drives, this time taking 11 plays to go 71 yards and using seven minutes off the clock.
But the Bears’ vaunted defense then put the clamps on the Howard offense and held them scoreless the rest of the half in a 7-0 lead.
Feeling a sense of responsibility, the Bison defense began to contribute, holding Morgan State in check the rest of the way. The offense got yet another touchdown that appeared to be a comfortable lead in a defensive affair where points did not come easily.
Howard had a chance to make it a three-score game early in the fourth quarter, but the Morgan State defense stood tall and stopped the Bison on a fourth and one in Morgan territory.
Buoyed by the success on defense, the Bears put together a short, quick drive of 89 yards that took only five plays and less than two minutes off the clock to make things interesting at 14-7 with ample time left.
But the Bison clamped down on defense and used its powerful and balanced running game to put the game away and earn the hard-earned trip to Atlanta.
The 6-5 record gives Howard its first winning season since 2017. The back-to-back championships are the first in Howard’s history.
This marks the third time that Howard has made postseason play. The first was in 1993 in the 1-AA (FCS) playoffs at Marshall, and the second came in 1996 when the Bison defeated Southern University in the Heritage Bowl. Both times, Howard was crowned Black National champions.
‘Never Losses, Only Lessons‘
On the accountability side, the majority of the players who contributed to this special journey are upperclassmen who have been around to see and experience Howard’s trek to victory.
Graduate quarterback Quinton Williams (Wise High School) led the offense and had his best season in a Howard uniform. Graduate running back/kick return specialist Ian Wheeler, senior running back Jarett Hunter, senior wide receiver/running back/quarterback Kasey Hawthorne and senior offensive tackle Anim Dankwah helped the balanced offense, which ranks among the best in the MEAC.
On the defensive side, senior All-American safety Kenny Gallop, Jr., graduate defensive linemen Darren Brokenburr and Jevin Jackson, and Christian White all made the defense efficient.
“I am extremely proud of this group,” said Coach Scott. “In order to win championships, you need quality people who are dedicated and committed to success. My coaching staff and support staff and the university all contributed to this success with a team effort. That’s what makes this so rewarding.”
Williams, one of the team captains, also weighed in on what it took for the Bison to be successful.
“Coach always stressed that there are never losses, only lessons. We all bought into that and you see the results.”