National Signing Day: Trent Howland is Joliet West’s first Power Five recruit in more than 20 years

Howland is the program’s first Power Five football recruit since 1997 grad Eric Parker, who played at Tennessee before spending time in the NFL with the Chargers.

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Joliet West’s Trent Howland signed with Indiana on December 16, 2020. He’s joined by his father Terry Howland, his mother Valerie Brooks and his sister, Morgan Brooks.

Joliet West’s Trent Howland signed with Indiana on December 16, 2020. He’s joined by his father Terry Howland, his mother Valerie Brooks and his sister, Morgan Brooks.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Trent Howland wasn’t going to be a football player and he wasn’t going to Joliet West.

But his mom, Valerie Brooks, had some perspective on how it came to be that the senior running back is Joliet West’s first Power Five football recruit in more than 20 years.

“My mom, she’s real religious,” Howland said after signing his letter of intent with Indiana on Wednesday afternoon. “She always said God has a plan for me.”

For years, that plan seemed to include a future in basketball, a sport Howland started playing in second grade — five years before he played an organized football game.

He played AAU ball through grade school and missed the start of football practice as a freshman because of a family trip that included a tournament in Las Vegas.

In fact, Howland initially was enrolled at a different high school that year. But he kept bugging his mom about making a change.

“He kept saying, ‘Mom, I want to go with the kids I’ve been going to school with who are my friends,’ ” Brooks said. “He wanted to stay in the neighborhood. He wanted to stay at Joliet West.”

So Brooks enrolled her son at West and emailed Tigers athletic director Steve Millsaps about joining the football program. Millsaps said yes, and the rest is history.

Howland is the program’s first Power Five football recruit since 1997 grad Eric Parker, who played at Tennessee before spending time in the NFL with the Chargers.

Howland did so despite not playing this fall with prep football sidelined because of COVID-19 restrictions.

He made his varsity debut as a sophomore in 2018, current coach Bill Lech’s first season in charge. It didn’t take Lech long to figure out Howland was special.

“You can eyeball a kid and say he passes the test, and Trent certainly did,” Lech said. “He’s 6-2, he’s 210 pounds. He’s just got that stature. He’s not afraid to run between tackles and he’s able to get outside when he has to.

“His hands are incredible. That’s where his basketball skills come in — his ability to catch the ball, his ability to position his body.”

When West’s top running back was sidelined by injury during Howland’s sophomore year, Lech pulled him up to the varsity.

“Those first couple weeks, he was kind of timid and shy, just finding his way, Lech said. “By the time he was a junior . . . he started to assert himself.”

That year, Howland had a 300-yard rushing game against Plainfield Central even though the Wildcats packed the box to stop the run. College recruiters started to take notice, and Howland realized where his future lay.

“After junior year football season, the college coaches started rolling in, calling me, hitting me up, offering me,” Howland said. “And I was like, ‘Wow, I guess football is the way I’m going to go.’ ”

But he was still playing basketball, helping the Tigers stage a remarkable turnaround from five wins in 2018-19 to 29-4 and a regional title last season.

Joliet West’s Trent Howland (4) grabs a rebound and goes up strong for a dunk against Hillcrest.

Joliet West’s Trent Howland (4) grabs a rebound and goes up strong for a dunk against Hillcrest.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

And Howland was getting looks from Youngstown State and other mid-major basketball programs.

But Howland isn’t playing anything right now, partly because of COVID restrictions and partly because he’s rehabbing a torn right ACL suffered doing a basketball drill Oct. 13.

Howland had surgery Nov. 13 and is expected to be able to start running in May with the entire recovery time expected to be nine months.

“The first week [after surgery], it was a mess,” Howland said. “I had a wrap on with my brace and crutches. It was hard to move. I just stayed in bed most of the time.”

But he’s back on his feet and moving toward his college career.

It seems like another part of that plan his mom kept telling him about.

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