Grayson Howard joins South Carolina at Jacksonville practice

Grayson “Pup” Howard and South Carolina practice Monday, Dec. 22, 2022 at Ponte Vedra High School in Jacksonville in preparation for the Gator Bowl.

Grayson “Pup” Howard and South Carolina practice Monday, Dec. 22, 2022 at Ponte Vedra High School in Jacksonville in preparation for the Gator Bowl.

Special to The State

Grayson “Pup” Howard’s high school football career technically ended Nov. 11. His holiday “break” is wrapping up with something familiar: more football.

Howard, already a high school graduate and a South Carolina football signee, practiced a handful of times with the Gamecocks last week in Columbia.

When USC held its first on-site Gator Bowl workout Monday at Ponte Vedra High School in Jacksonville, Howard was there in shoulder pads and shorts.

The four-star linebacker is practicing with his soon-to-be college teammates because he can — and because he wants to. That early taste of college is beneficial to Howard and to USC’s coaches for what’s to come when the calendar turns to 2023.

“He’s out here,” head coach Shane Beamer said Monday. “We gave him the option. He’s a football player. He just wanted to come out here and practice.”

Howard (6-4, 225) starred nearby at Andrew Jackson High, topping his 157-tackle season as a junior with 188 stops this year. He committed to South Carolina in June and became an outspoken ambassador for the 2023 recruiting class.

The experience he’s getting with his first collegiate practices is very different from the recruiting process, according to USC defensive coordinator Clayton White.

“Very excited that he’s here, being around the guys so he’s not nervous when spring starts,” White told reporters last week. “He’s getting used to hearing voices — hearing us in our coaches voice, which is cool, and not the recruiting voice, which is different.”

Howard was the lone linebacker to sign for the program’s 2023 class. He’ll enroll at South Carolina and begin classes in January.

NCAA rules allow for athletes to practice early with their colleges as long as they meet a few requirements.

“Provided the (prospective student-athlete) has triggered student-athlete status and certified as eligible to practice by an institution,” per NCAA, “a midyear enrollee may practice at the institution and/or bowl location, may travel with the team to the bowl location, and may receive complimentary admissions to the bowl game. They may also be present on the sideline subject to football playing rules/bowl rules.”

Howard won’t play in Friday’s bowl showdown with Notre Dame, but he does have one more game left to play. He’ll participate in the All-American Bowl in San Antonio on Jan. 7.

Classes begin at USC on Jan. 9.

Beamer, speaking about Howard at USC’s signing day press conference Dec. 21, lauded his “great personality” and called the signee “unbelievable … positive all the time, competitive, mature, business-like.”

White described Howard as a “dialed-in dude” that comes from his family’s military background. And there are plenty of benefits to coaches with Howard joining in for a few practices, White said.

“You can learn a lot. You can get a good feel for his body type, get a good feel for his functional movement skills,” White said. “You can get a feel for what’s going to be too much.”

In some ways, USC coaches are easing Howard in. Still, he’s joining the team (8-4) as it wraps up the season.

“We’re not going to start the playbook over and start at point zero for him,” White said. “He has to pick up on the back end, game 13.

“We’ll start him back over in January.”

Director of Sports at The State in Columbia, South Carolina. A University of South Carolina Class of 1997 graduate who joined The State in October 2007. I’m part of the APSE award-winning Sports staff that includes our work on the South Carolina Gamecocks and Clemson Tigers. Previously worked for The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News and Gaston (North Carolina) Gazette.

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