Hall of Fame head coach Mack Brown receives much of the credit for North Carolina’s current surge. Perhaps his single biggest move was convincing Sam Howell to be his quarterback. Howell has guided the Tar Heels to back-to-back bowl games, including last season’s Orange Bowl. He led the ACC, a league that included Trevor Lawrence, in passing yards (3,586 yards), touchdown passes (30) and pass efficiency rating (179.1) in 2020. Entering his junior season, Howell already shares the North Carolina record for career TD passes (68). During the offseason, Howell discussed his championship goals, what motivates him and how he can get even better.
North Carolina Football: Q&A with QB Sam Howell
How do you feel about the progress your team has made as you get ready for Year Three?
I feel really good coming into Year Three. We have a lot of really good players coming back. We certainly lost a lot of talent to the NFL this past year, but we have a lot of really good young players who are going to step up for us this year. We’ve been working really hard. This is probably the hardest I’ve seen our team work since I’ve been here. We have a lot of excitement in the building, and there’s kind of like a buzz in the air around Chapel Hill about our football team. We’re really excited for it.
What are the team’s goals for the 2021 season?
As a team, we expect to win every single football game. What comes with that is winning the ACC championship and hopefully winning the national championship. I think a lot of people don’t really take it serious when we talk about our national championship goals here at North Carolina, but it’s certainly something that our team and our program believes in. It’s something that we definitely think is possible for us if we take care of what we’re supposed to take care of.
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What about your individual goals? Last year was about losing weight and improving as a runner. What’s new for you this season?
I’m still trying to get my body to where I really want it to be and trying to get myself in a position where I can move a little bit better. I think I made a big improvement from Year One to Year Two, and I’m trying to make an even bigger improvement from Year Two to Year Three when it comes to the mobility part of things. And I definitely want to keep improving mentally. There’s still so much more that I could learn about the defensive side of football and try to learn more about our offense and try to take complete control of this offense. I’m definitely determined going into this year. I think I still have so much to prove. Not to other people, but to myself.
When you look back at last year, what do you see as the biggest area where you can improve?
I think just being more consistent. I think I played some really good football at times. And sometimes I played some average football. I’m just trying to be at my best at all times throughout the game. I think that if I’m at my best at all times, it kind of sets the tone for the rest of the team. I think if I’m playing at my best, then we’ll have a really good chance to win every single game.
What’s the difference between average Sam Howell and the best Sam Howell?
That’s a good question. You can just see it. I would like to say that I’m at my best most of the time when I’m out there. But there are times when I’m trying to do too much or making stupid decisions, and that’s probably when I’m not at my best. When I stay away from making those mistakes, I do a pretty good job of what I do, and it leads to our team success.
How do you balance that desire and ability to make a big play versus the negative consequences that can result from holding the ball longer?
You definitely just kind of have to weigh it out. It’s amazing when it’s good, but it sucks when it’s bad. You just kind of have to get a feel for the moment and get a feel for how the game is going. When your team needs that big play, you’ve got to step up and make the play. But also, when you don’t really need it at the time, when you just need to put together a good drive, you don’t need to try to do too much and cause a turnover. You need to be able to relax and just stay within the play and make smart decisions.
What motivates you to work as hard as you do?
I just want to be the best. I have a lot of goals that I set for myself at a young age, and I’ll work every single day to achieve those goals. Everything I do, I do it with a purpose, and I want to be the best at every single thing that I do. That’s kind of my mentality, not only in football but in life. Whatever I’m doing at the time, I want to do it better than anybody else is doing it.
With all the records that you’ve set and that you can set, you’ve become one of the faces of college football. How do you feel about that?
Obviously, it’s cool. I don’t do it for the recognition or stuff like that. I do it because I love the game, and I want to be good at everything that I do. But it definitely is nice to see all those things come and just kind of see all the work that I’ve put in my whole life start to pay off. It definitely is a blessing. I can’t complain. God has blessed me in so many different ways, and I thank Him every single day for everything that I’ve been blessed with and the position that I’m in right now.
Your school has started pushing the #He7smanHowell hashtag, and you’re one of the preseason favorites. What would that mean to you?
It would mean a lot. When you think about what the Heisman Trophy is, it’s the ultimate team award. Every single year, usually the best player on the best team wins that award. Really, I’m just focused on trying to help my team win football games and just trying to do everything that I can to make sure that we’re winning every single football game. I think if we do that, I’ll have a good chance at that award. But definitely my goals are more team-based. Whatever comes after that comes.
If this year goes the way you want, you’ll have some decisions to make about your future. How often do you think about the NFL and those possibilities?
I don’t think about it a whole lot. It’s realistic to think about, and I think about it sometimes. But right now, I’m worried about this year. Because if I don’t do what I’m supposed to do this year, then I won’t have a decision to make. I’m just trying to be the best version of myself I can be and trying to put our team in position to be very successful and win a lot of games.
— Interview conducted by Nolan Hayes for Athlon Sports' 2021 National College Football Magazine.
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