HELENA — Jacob Howell had a good problem to deal with in the process of making his decision on where to play his college ball: he had plenty of options.
The Helena High senior, who played primarily tight end and tackle during his four-year career with the Bengals, whittled down his college options and opted to sign with Montana Tech.
Howell chose Tech over Carroll College, Dickinson State, Minot State and Western Montana's football programs, and said he based his decision on the atmosphere and culture that Orediggers coach Chuck Morrell created.
"What sold me on Montana Tech is the coaching staff made you feel welcome," Howell said. "The coaches and parents made you appreciate the time you put in to come down there. Their facility is nice, and the atmosphere down there is a winning attitude. I went down there for a game visit in September and the atmosphere during the tailgate and student section made it seem like an exciting place to play the next couple of years."
Howell's size, athleticism and versatility made him a valuable asset to Helena during his four-year career, according to coach Scott Evans.
Howell played fullback, halfback, tight end and on the offensive line during over the years.
"He did a lot of things for us: catch the ball, play in the backfield, and played multiple positions for us," Evans said. "He could play three or four positions on the offensive side of the ball. When we had a couple of different injuries, he was a very versatile athlete and did some good things."
His willingness to do whatever the team needed, combined with his 6-foot-2, 245-pound frame, made him an attractive option to several small college programs, according to Evans.
"By the time his football career at Helena High was all said and done, he did whatever it took to help the team," Evans said. "Whatever the team needed, he would do. It was the right decision for himself team-wise."
Transitioning from high school to the college game is difficult for most incoming freshmen, but Evans expressed confidence in Howell's ability to get acclimated to the game.
"There is a learning curve, and it will be difficult at first," Evans said of Howell's transition. "However, Jake will adapt, and learn to play football at the college level. He's a good-sized kid and can play tight end, halfback, and if you need an offensive lineman, he can do it in several positions. There aren't many guys his size that can play that."
Howell had a natural intuition with the Bengals, and Evans always felt he could play at the next level.
"Jacob is one of those kids who was athletic at the very beginning," Evans recalled. "I don't think he knew how good he could be, but as the years went on it got better and better. He did make great progression playing multiple sports."
Aside from Howell's natural ability, he also put a lot of time in the weight room.
"He was always pushing himself in the summer and did a great job preparing himself for the next endeavor," Evans said.
The Idaho Vandals football camp Howell attended over the summer really opened up his eyes to what it would take for him to succeed at the varsity level.
"The summer before my junior year, I went to the Vandals football camp and learned what it would take to succeed at the varsity level," Howell said. "I had to adapt to that physicality (at the varsity level) and what you had to do to beat the kid in front of you."
Howell eventually adapted to the varsity level, and during his senior year even replaced offensive tackle Miles Hush the final three games of the season.
"To succeed at the varsity level, you have to have the mentality that you are going to beat the guy in front of you," Howell said. "You have to do it no matter what it takes."
Taking over in the offensive line during the final three games of the season was crucial to Helena's success, Evans said.
"Howell stepping late in in the season added another dimension to our game," Evans said. "He allowed us to do multiple things and do some things we couldn't do."
Evans said it's that ability to be versatile that will allow him to have a successful transition into the college game. Evans speculates they will play Howell at tight end or offensive line.
"I look forward to seeing his progression," Evans said. "Once he buys into the program and takes the first step to figure out the system, he'll do a great job for them and be an asset they can use for four or five years."
Howell said he felt he'll be ready for the challenge.
"I'll have to get into the weight room and have to get a lot stronger to match up against bigger linemen the NAIA has," Howell said. "I am going to have to bring up my intensity, have that mentality to beat the guy in front of me and be able to get on the field this year. That would be a nice goal for me."