Promising junior Trent Howland runs Joliet West past Joliet Central

Trent Howland, a 6-2, 225-pound running back, is starting to make a name for himself in the Southwest Prairie conference.

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Joliet West’s Trent Howland (6) holds off Joliet Central’s Rick Guzman (66).

Joliet West’s Trent Howland (6) holds off Joliet Central’s Rick Guzman (66).

Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

Joliet Catholic has won a record 14 state football titles. The two public high schools in Joliet have qualified for the playoffs a combined six times.

Joliet West has never won a playoff game, neither has Joliet Central. When the schools had a combined athletic program, they won two playoff games, but that was 24 years ago.

What the Tigers and Steelmen need more than anything is a glimmer of hope. Joliet West has that in running back Trent Howland. The 6-2, 225-pound junior is starting to make a name for himself in the Southwest Prairie conference.

He ran for 138 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries to lead Joliet West to a 24-0 victory against the visiting Steelmen on Saturday.

“[Howland] is a man,” Tigers coach Bill Lech said. “He just has to learn to pick his knees up a little bit when he runs. Guys are swatting at his ankles. That’s how he’s getting brought down. You get him out into space, and he’s a hard one to bring down.

“This is really his third year [playing football]. To see him improve is going to be deadly.”

Howland had a 16-yard touchdown run and a four-yard TD run in the second half.

“I know I can improve a lot,” Howland said. “There are so many things I can get better at. I need to get low while running the ball and follow the holes.”

The first half of the game was ugly. Neither team was able to gain much yardage. Joliet West (2-5, 2-1 Southwest Prairie East) scored on two safeties and led 4-0.

“The first half was just us making mistakes and hurting ourselves,” Lech said. “But those are things we do every day in practice. We have to eliminate those things, and they have to understand the importance of daily preparation. Our kids are starting to learn that.”

Howland ran well in the second half, and Tigers junior quarterback Brenden McGee started to connect with some receivers. McGee was 8-for-15 for 85 yards with one interception.

Kinsyn Shelby sealed the win with a 30-yard scoop-and-score fumble-recovery return early in the fourth quarter.

“We lost to them last year, and it was devastating,” Shelby said. “It was the first time in, like, 40 years. This is a big win for us, and it means we have a chance to win the conference.”

Joliet Central (0-7, 0-3) has been shut out five times. Next week, the Steelmen have another decent chance to pick up a win when they face 1-6 Plainfield Central.

The Tigers finish up with winnable games against Plainfield Central and Plainfield South. A conference title, even in the weak Southwest Prairie East, would mean a lot to Joliet West. And Howland is a solid foundation to build around next season.

“[Howland] is a big boy,” Shelby said. “This year he’s grown into the running back everyone wanted him to become. He’s going to be a beast next year.”

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