Mack Howard left the MAIS Class 5A championship game a year ago thrilled that he was able to deliver a title to Heritage Academy — the program’s first championship since 2019.
But something was missing.
The three-star recruit finished with 334 passing yards and six touchdowns as Heritage Academy defeated Copiah Academy 51-21 and he was poised to be the top returning player in the MAIS. However, Howard quickly decided that the title game would be his final for the Patriots. He transferred to Oxford after moving in March.
“Part of the transition for me going up to Oxford was really proving to myself that I can compete at the highest level and prove to the people who have doubted me and said I played private school ball,” Howard said. “That was a big reason for me and I want to keep challenging myself.
“I wasn’t satisfied, if that makes sense. I want to be the best at everything I do.”
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The Utah commitment has something to prove in the MHSAA Class 6A-Region 2 against some of the toughest competition in the state, including defending state champion Madison Central, Starkville and Tupelo.
Howard is No. 9 in The Clarion Ledger's 2022 Dandy Dozen, a collection of the top college football recruits in Mississippi for the Class of 2023 as picked by the newspaper.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Howard had been a part of the Heritage Academy community for the majority of his life. Former Patriots coach Sean Harrison noticed his talent in the sixth grade before coaching varsity and middle school teams to personally jumpstart his development.
Mack understands that he had a “great supporting cast” at Heritage Academy, according to his father, Tommy Howard. Mack realized early that he would only be as good as the people around him, which made his decision to transfer last spring a display of maturity, according to Tommy.
“It really spoke to his commitment to be as good as they can possibly be,” Tommy Howard said. “To his commitment to the game. He made it clear to me that he wanted to be challenged at the highest level. He wanted to get out of his comfort zone and play against the best.”
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The All-State second-team selection had 3,475 passing yards, 47 passing touchdowns and six rushing yards in 13 games last season. However, there was an immediate difference in quarterback pressure in practice with the Chargers in the spring.
“It’s definitely a huge difference,” Mack Howard said. “There’s no doubt about that. I see it every day in practice going up against players like Alex Sanford and Malaki Pegues. They’re two great players and they’re just part of a defense that is very good.”
Oxford coach Chris Cutcliffe, who led the Chargers to a state title in 2019, acknowledged the difference Howard will see early this season. Oxford travels to state runner-up Brandon in Week 1.
“I think it is a jump,” Cutcliffe said. “I do think we play in the toughest region in the state of Mississippi and I think we play as tough of a non-region schedule as anybody in the state as well.
“It’s an opportunity to compete against the best, week in and week out.”
However, Cutcliffe believes he has the tools to adapt. Howard is the No. 10 recruit in the state and No. 27 quarterback nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Howard picked the Utes over offers from Cincinnati, Houston and Louisville among others.
The Chargers need Howard to adjust quickly for a shot at winning their first title since 2019.
“He’s consistently accurate with the football,” Cutcliffe said. “He’s been a very high completion percentage guy. I think another thing you see is his ability to extend plays in the pocket to make plays outside the pocket to keep his eyes downfield and make plays downfield when something breaks down in the pocket. It has been very impressive.”
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Oxford's Mack Howard on a new challenge with Oxford, not satisfied after MAIS title