TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There's something dangerous about diving headlong into a recruit's game film, mainly because it's never really just that. What is seen online are chopped and spliced 3-minute packages hitting the highlights. We see what players and coaches want us to see.
O.J. Howard has the potential to be a victim of his own buildup, a casualty of a campaign he never asked for.
Before Howard ever set foot on the University of Alabama's campus, the blue-chip prospect already was seen as a game-changer, a gifted athlete who could revive the tight end position in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama coach Nick Saban isn't one to rally the hype machine. In fact, he abhors it. But what he saw in Howard was enough for him to drop a few hints. During Saban's radio show in January, he was asked whether the Tide would join in on the tight end revolution started by his friend and former colleague, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Saban, who said he couldn't talk about specific recruits, didn't fail to insinuate with his answer.
"We feel like we found one of those kind of players this year," Saban explained, leaving the rest to the imagination.
Could Howard be the next Aaron Hernandez, the next Rob Gronkowski?
On film, Howard is that type of talent. He's a matchup nightmare at 6-foot-6 and well over 200 pounds. He can make catches that look impossible for someone his size. He was, as many Division-I prospects appear to be, a man among boys in high school. He was so good as a sophomore at Autauga Academy (Prattville, Ala.) -- setting a school record with 31 total touchdowns -- that he committed to Alabama ahead of schedule. Over the next two seasons, he'd average 1,133 total yards and earn back-to-back AISA All-State honors.
"He was a monster on tape," said ESPN senior national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill.
Howard didn't shrink in the face of real competition, either, when he played in the Under Armour All-America game. The tape, as it turned out, didn't lie.
To read more of Alex Scarborough's story, click here.