JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A little consistency made a world of difference for Florida defensive tackle Jaye Howard.
In fact, it saved his career.
The 6-foot-3, 295-pound Howard arrived in Gainesville in 2007 out of Apopka (Fla.) High School as one of the state's top defensive ends. But he also had the attitude to match his lofty recruiting ranking and his lack of consistent effort. Plus a roster that included eventual NFL players Derrick Harvey, Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham, resulted in Howard redshirting.
He played sparingly in 2008 and 2009, battling with defensive line coach Dan McCarney and defensive coordinator Charlie Strong as they tried to get him to understand the importance of going hard in every practice and every game. They knew the talent was there, but the effort just didn't match.
By the time McCarney and Strong left after the 2009 season, Howard had finally gotten the message. He made nine of his 29 tackles in the final four games, including five solo stops in the Outback Bowl victory over Penn State.
This season has been the best of his career. His 60 tackles are six fewer than the 66 he had in his first three seasons, and his 4.0 sacks are nearly half of his career total (9.5). He knows he could have been this kind of player earlier in his career had he only listened to his coaches.
"It's growing pains," Howard said. "You think you know it, and it takes time to really understand. Like self-evaluation -- if you don't do it, you're not a great player."