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Storm

Howfield relishes latest chance

The kicker survived a major accident and found a spot with the Storm.

By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 2, 2003


TAMPA -- As he lay in a Las Vegas hospital bed five years ago with two discs in his back fused and a scar on his right knee a reminder of cartilage replacement surgery, Ian Howfield made a promise to himself.

"There's no way this is going to end like this," Howfield told himself. "I don't want my career to end on a truck driver's terms."

Howfield, then a kicker with Anaheim of the Arena League, had spent most of his life pursuing a football career. But that was threatened in a hit-and-run accident that nearly cost him his life.

Last week, Howfield, 36, returned to the field. Two days after being signed by the Storm, he kicked a 23-yard field goal as time expired to lift Tampa Bay to a 58-56 victory last Sunday at Grand Rapids.

"I got a premonition," he said. "The night before, I just knew the way the story was folding out, I said, 'This is coming down to you, man. Just prepare for it.' "

Howfield was a passenger in a car hit by a construction truck after the 1997 season. It took 31/2 years to get back into kicking shape.

He attempted a comeback with the Iowa Barnstormers in 1998 but was in far too much pain to play.

"It was so hard to walk away from it at that point, saying I can't do it," Howfield said.

He began daily workouts in June, then attended tryouts in Arizona, Georgia and Colorado but didn't catch on.

An opportunity presented itself after Storm kicker Pete Elezovic missed three extra points in a 61-55 loss Feb. 17 at Las Vegas. After the game, Howfield, who was working for NBC's affiliate in Las Vegas, bumped into Storm coach Tim Marcum.

"Oh, God," Howfield said Marcum told him. "The last thing I want to do is see another kicker."

But the two began to talk, along with Tampa Bay owner Woody Kern, who owned the Fort Worth Cavalry when Howfield played there in 1994.

"We knew we were going to make a change by that time, so (Howfield) said, 'Well, let me come in and kick,' " Marcum said.

Howfield was one of seven invited to try out the following week. After making all seven of his kicks, Howfield signed Feb. 21.

Howfield knew from an early age he wanted to be a kicker, like his father, Bobby, who played for the Denver Broncos and New York Jets in the 1970s.

When Howfield was 6, his father kicked six field goals against New Orleans, including the winning 49-yarder, to account for all of the Jets' points.

"That's when I was hooked," Howfield said. "I said, 'I'm going to follow in my dad's footsteps.' "

Howfield started with soccer. He was offered a college scholarship but decided there was no future in the sport.

He got a chance to play football at Tennessee after a coach who knew Howfield's father noticed the family's name on a manila envelope as he spit into a trash can.

Howfield went on to kick for six NFL teams over six seasons, including a short stint with the Bucs in 1993. He was one of two finalists from a 20-kicker tryout at minicamp, but the team signed free agent Michael Husted just before training camp.

Howfield found a job with the Dallas Texans of the Arena League and, after five seasons with four teams, ranks fifth all-time in field goals (82) and eighth in scoring among kickers (500 points).

He made five extra points and two field goals in his Storm debut before missing an extra point with one minute left and Tampa Bay leading by six. Grand Rapids took a one-point lead before Howfield redeemed himself. He reached the 500-point plateau and earned the game ball.

"I couldn't have written a better script," he said. "Before I went out to kick the game winner, I said, 'You've come a long way since laying on that bed after surgery.' "

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