BOWIE, TX (KAUZ) - The Bowie Jackrabbits basketball team is set to play in the UIL State Basketball Tournament on Thursday.
Two years ago they were lead by then-sophomore Jeffery Howard. But since then, Howard has suffered two tough knee injuries, both on the football field. Now he is back on the court, playing with his teammates.
"It's definitely been the hardest couple of years of my life these past two years," Howard said. "But I mean, with my brothers out there and this community behind me, they made it a whole whole lot easier."
Howard earned District MVP honors as a sophomore back in 2016 while averaging 15 points per game. Now the senior has a different role for the state-bound Jackrabbits: coming off the bench.
The road back to playing wasn't easy, but Howard says his head coach Doug Boxell helped him fight through some of the toughest times.
"He's definitely been there for me," Howard said. "He's been one of my biggest supporters. There has been times I wanted to give up, I mean, at times it was really hard to even just get up and go to practice anymore. So he just gave me that fight and gave me that grit and basically told me it's not -- it's a game, but if I can fight through this, anything in life will be easy."
"I knew he was going to go through some rough times," Boxell said. "He had to find a way to use what he had to bring a special element to the team and I think he can. He doesn't have to be the quickest kid out there on the floor. He just needs to know how to use his tools, and I think he can. He can find his spots and make a difference in the ball game. And he's a special player and special kid and we're glad he is on our team."
Despite losing some of his physical gifts to the injuries, the Jackrabbits still rely on Howard as a big piece for the team.
"He's got the best shot on the team and he's been the number one guy all of his life," said Boxell, a 5-time state champion coach before coming to Bowie in 2014. "So having him there, we know he can sill find a way to get the job done, and you know, that's special for our kids. And no matter what the level is, we know he is a special ingredient out there."
"It's huge," said Howard's fellow senior, forward James Swaim. "It's great having someone that really knows how to play and knows how to use other people."
The biggest difference for Howard on the court is the way he has to approach the game now.
"Coach sat down and talked to me," Howard said."He told me, 'You have enough talent. You've got to be able to maintain your speed and know what you are doing out there.' Basically I have to break it down and do a whole lot more mental game than I do physical game. So I mean it's been tough, but with guys like them out there, Gary and Daniel [Mosely] and Justin [Franklin] handling the ball, and Keck [Jones], it's not that hard."
Howard now has a chance to finish his high school career with a State Championship ring, and it's a chance he isn't taking lightly.
"It's definitely one of the biggest moments of my life right now," he said. "Like I said, the last two years have been tough and these guys out here have supported me, the community. So I mean it's definitely one of the greatest feelings I've had in my life so far."
The 10th-ranked Jackrabbits face Grandview Thursday at 1:30 p.m. at the Alamodome in San Antonio in the first semifinal game.
#12 Mount Vernon faces Santa Rosa in the second semifinal at 3 p.m.
Adam Ostrow will have a complete recap of the game Thursday on Newschannel 6 at 6 and 10!