For a while, Bryce Howard seemed destined to play Division I college football.
But after his first season at left tackle for the NAIA's Menlo College, the Los Banos High graduate is happy where he is.
"People ask me all the time if I'm going to transfer out and play D-1, but the Lord works in mysterious ways, and God put me here for a reason," the business management real estate major said. "I want to stay at Menlo College, then I want to play in the NFL, then invest in real estate."
Only one player has gone straight from Menlo to the NFL Nate Jackson caught 27 passes for 240 yards from 2003-'08 for the Denver Broncos. But Howard has beaten long odds before. He recalls guidance counselors asking his freshman class who planned to play college athletics.
"I would raise my hand, and everybody would laugh," he said. "They'd say, 'People from Los Banos don't play college sports, it just doesn't happen. Especially you, Bryce, you're so small.' By my senior season, college coaches from all over the country were coming to Los Banos to see Bryce Howard, because I worked my butt off. It was such a huge blessing for me to get that scholarship."
Howard, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound offensive lineman, started all 10 games for the Oaks in 2012, and was voted newcomer of the year by his teammates. He said it took a couple of games to make the adjustment from high school to college football.
"It's a lot of technique. In high school I got away with just being a brute because of my size," he said. "I could push everybody around and do what I wanted. In college everybody's good. I'm also in the weight room, getting strong legs. That was huge, just working out every day. Eating right was a big thing.
"I like to say my job is to eat, work out and go to school. It's the best job in the world."
Howard is spending the summer working with his dad Rick on the family ranch, where he gets paid in food. He also helps new coach Mark Grieb, who quarterbacked the San Jose SaberCats to three Arena Football titles during a 12-year career, talk to recruits about Menlo College.
He tells them the story about how he ended up at Menlo a few hours before he was to commit to Fresno State and Pat Hill, Hill was fired. By that time, his scholarship offers by San Jose State and Sacramento State had dried up. They wanted him to grayshirt that is, to go to school and wait for a scholarship to become available.
Howard says he is honest during these talks.
"All kids coming out of high school want to go to Division I. So did I," Howard said. "I'll be honest, when I first got a letter from Menlo, I threw it in the trash. But people don't realize the value of an education, and having personal relationships with the coaches not just being a number on a big campus. It's, 'Hey Bryce, how are you doing today?'
"Coming from someone who had that and came to Menlo, it helps. We have a lot of great recruits coming in this year. I'm really excited about this upcoming season."
The Oaks went 4-6 last season, playing an independent schedule. Howard is looking forward to a more aggressive offense under Grieb.
"We're changing the whole offense to West Coast, the same thing the 49ers run," Howard said. "He's a quarterback, so he loves his offensive line, and to throw the ball. I think we'll pound it down the field and score a lot of points."
Enterprise reporter David Witte can be reached by phone at 388-6565 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org