Sunday, April 21, 2019
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20180507 Johnny HowellTo say that UIL State gold medals are hard to come by would be an understatement. Literally thousands of high school athletes from across the Lone Star state dream of bringing home a gold medal, year-in and year-out, but only a handful of them ever experience the thrill and honor of standing atop the awards podium and having a state gold medal hung around their necks.

When it comes to the Rio Grande Valley, the number of athletes that bring state gold medals home with them on a yearly basis can usually be counted on one hand. That is why it is such a big deal to have a valley athlete go into the state track and field meet as the favorite to take the gold medal like Sharyland Pioneer shot putter Johnny Howell is.

As the son of long-time and highly respected throwing coach, Larry Howell, and a track and field coach at Mission Veterans Memorial High School, Kathy Howell, it should come as a surprise to nobody that Johnny not only took up the shot put and the discus at an early age, but that he has gone on to become the top shot putter in the district, area, region and quite possibly the state in this his senior year.

The fact that Howell’s best shot put throw at the UIL Region IV track and field meet, held just two weeks ago, was nearly two feet further than any of the other state qualifiers’ best throws is why he is the favorite at this weekend’s state meet which is being held at Mike A. Myers Stadium at the University of Texas Austin.

“Those rankings are coming from everybody’s best throws at the regional track meets and my best throw of 57-09.00 was my best so far this season,” Howell said. “But as good as that throw was, it was about eight inches short of my personal record of 58-06.50 which I’m hoping to match or even surpass at the state meet. Those qualifying throws give us a pretty good idea of what everybody will be throwing at the state meet.”

Having come about as close as you can come to medaling at last year’s state meet, without actually medaling, has helped drive Howell to where he is today, on the verge of being the top shot putter across the state of Texas.

“I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to at last year’s state meet,” Howell said. “I placed fourth, and while as the only junior in that competition it was pretty exciting to place that high, I fell six inches short of medaling which was my goal. But that has driven me to be where I’m at right now going into the state meet.”

After placing a disappointing second at this year’s 31-5A district meet, Howell has been at the top of his game ever since.

“After the district meet I took a couple of days to reflect about how I felt and I got myself mentally ready for the Area meet,” Howell said. “I won the Area meet by about three feet over everybody else there with a throw of 57-08.00, an Area meet record, and was my season’s best at that point in time.”

“Going into the Regional meet, I knew I had the best mark going in by a few feet, so I wanted to make sure I kept that good distance between myself and the rest of the pack,” Howell added. “My first throw at the Regional meet was an OK throw of 55 feet but I knew that wasn’t good enough. My next throw was my season best throw of 57-09.00 and from that throw on I knew I was going to the state meet. I also knew that I’d have a very good chance of bringing home the state gold medal.”

While he is the favorite, the favorite does not always win. When asked if he would be disappointed with anything less than the gold, Howell said, “I will be a little bit disappointed if I don’t win the state championship because that has been my goal. But if I throw my best and somebody else beats me, they deserve it more than me. But if I don’t throw my personal best and somebody beats me that will be on me for not competing to my fullest.”

If Howell succeeds in winning the state championship, he will be the second Diamondback track and field athlete to do so. That is because in the first year of the school’s existence, Nora Monie took the gold medal in the discus at the state meet.

Whether or not he succeeds in topping the field at the state meet, Howell already knows what he’ll be doing next year; going to school and throwing the shot put and possibly the hammer for the Cougars. That’s because he has already signed a letter of intent with the University of Houston.

Howell is not the only Big 7 athlete to qualify for this weekend’s state track meet. The others are Pioneer’s Daizy Monie who qualified in the discus, Sharyland’s Valeria Diaz and Blake Klein who qualified for the 1,600 meter run and the triple jump respectively, Palmview’s Brianna Robles who qualified in the 1,600 and 3,200 meter runs, Mission’s Alex Cordova who qualified in the 400 meter dash, and Juarez-Lincoln’s 4 x 400 meter relay team which is made up of Kenneth Gonzalez, Harley Vargas, Jose Maldonado and Elias Gutierrez.