Ty Howle and the ground are as much teammates as Ty Howle and Christian Hackenberg.
Howle, listed at 6-foot tall, is three inches shorter than the starting guards to his side, and five or six inches shorter than the starting tackles on the edge. Often the lowest man in the trenches, Howle must grind his cleats into the grass to gain leverage on the defensive tackle who wants to tackle the “kid” — that’s what Howle, 22, calls Hackenberg, 18 — awaiting the snap.
Howle snaps. Hackenberg drops back, away from danger. Howle lunges, toward it. That’s when he starts to get “nasty,” in the words coach Bill O’Brien.
“I think it’s the way I play the game,” Howle added. “It’s something I really enjoy doing so I’m always hustling and getting out there and playing to the whistle.”
In his final season, Howle replaced Matt Stankiewitch as Penn State’s starting center. O’Brien said the graduate senior has stepped right into the void left by Stankiewitch, whom the coach commended Wednesday for surviving up to, but not beyond, the New England Patriots’ last round of cuts.
Stankiewitch also had three inches on his then-backup. As a shorter guy by offensive line standards, Howle grew up fans of centers Jeff Saturday and A.Q. Shipley — a former Nittany Lion — in the NFL. Saturday was 6-foot-2, and Shipley only 6-foot-1.
Howle compensates for lost height in ferocity, but once the whistle blows, he’s quiet and attentive to Hackenberg. Howle said Hackenberg doesn’t dubiously command his huddles. O’Brien made sure of that.
“Coach O’Brien teaches that there’s only one guy talking and that’s the quarterback,” Howle said. “He’s the commander back there. It’s everybody listening to him. There’s not really time for rah rah or pep talks. It’s all Hack talking in the huddle.
“Hack is a confident guy. You can just tell by the way somebody speaks, and talks. If somebody’s confident, they’re very to the point, punctual. That’s the way he was. He was demonstrative with it and he was impressive. That let us know the kid was ready.”
A kid still, but a kid four inches taller than Howle.