Howard reaches goal with top camp invite

MOBILE, Ala. -- O.J. Howard was playing baseball until well after midnight on Saturday because of weather delays, but the University of Alabama commit turned around the following day and made the trip to Mobile, Ala., with one goal in mind. He wanted an invitation to The Opening in Oregon, the prestigious annual Nike camp for the country's top recruits.

The lack of sleep had no ill effect on Howard, who posted a 104.22, the combine’s top SPARQ score, and punched his ticket to Nike’s premier event in July.

“It feels good,” Howard said. “That was my main goal to come out here today and get that invite. It happened, so that’s another goal I can take off my list now and focus on the next goal. There’s going to be a lot of freak athletes out there, so I’m ready to go against those guys.”

The SPARQ rating consists of four categories combined together to create one score. They include the 40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttle, power-ball toss and vertical jump.

At last year’s event, Howard posted an overall score of 99.12. On Sunday, he improved his 40 time but was a little bewildered that the distance on his power-ball toss went down.

“My 40 surprised me in a good way,” Howard said. “It was a 4.63. I haven’t been practicing for it since December at the Under Armour combine, but it got faster. Something that shocked me was my power ball went down. It was a 41 my first time here last year, but now it’s a 38.5. I didn’t too good on it, and I was pretty upset about that one.”

The drills are similar to what athletes go through at the NFL combine as they try and improve their stock for the draft.

Howard, a 6-foot-5, 221-pound tight end prospect, knows that posting a good score can help with rankings and preparing for the next level, but he also understands that what matters most is what you do on the field.

“I think it’s a very big step for you in your recruitment, and it will help you out a lot," Howard said. "But at the same time, it doesn’t mean anything for when you put your pads on. It’s a totally different atmosphere on the field. It’s something good, though, just to have on your resume.”

Howard’s credentials continues to look more and more impressive. The ESPNU Watch List member hopes to go west this summer and prove he’s one of the top players not only at his position but overall.

It will be his first trip to the state of Oregon.

“It’s going to be a different experience,” Howard said. “I’ve heard it’s nice, so I want to see it. It’s a different atmosphere I bet.”

Howard became the fourth player in 2012 to earn an invite to The Opening, joining Georgia commit Derrick Henry, Texas defensive end Torrodney Prevot and Florida linebacker Matthew Thomas.

Last year, Alabama signee Landon Collins won the SPARQ ratings national championship with an overall score of 143.76.