PRATTVILLE, Ala. -- O.J. Howard grew up in the Prattville, Ala., school system. He had dreams to one day compete for a Class 6A state championship at Prattville (Ala.) High School. The competition was there. The exposure was there. He had it all.
But it wasn't meant to be.
Prattville won the state championship last year, but Howard was not a part of the team. Instead, he was part of a Prattville (Ala.) Autauga Academy team that advanced to the AISA Class A title game before falling to Jackson (Ala.) Academy.
Prior to his freshman year, Howard's house was rezoned, forcing him to attend a different high school. He opted to transfer to Autauga Academy, a smaller school where prospects the caliber of Howard don't normally play football.
"It's still football," he said. "It's not 6A-level football, but there are still pretty good athletes out here and competition every day."
The move didn't impact his recruitment any. Howard has committed to Alabama and is rated the nation's No. 39 prospect in the ESPN 150. And on Friday, the 6-foot-6, 225-pound tight end was presented with his official game jersey for the 2013 Under Armour All-America Game as part of the American Family Insurance Selection Tour.
"It feels great," Howard said. "It's something that, growing up, you always watched this game on TV, and to get to play in this game is a tremendous honor. It's really cool. It shows that a lot of hard work that I put in this summer, it's paying off right now.
"It's like a kid who has a dream to want to do something, and somebody telling me I can't do it. That's basically what it is to me. I just want to go out and prove everybody wrong. It's an honor and a blessing and shows you can do anything possible if you put your mind to it."
Howard has already proven he can compete against the nation's best at various camps and events over the summer such as The Opening and Gridiron Kings.
The Under Armour All-America Game will give him another opportunity to show he can compete, this time with full pads in a game situation.
"This is my chance to prove everybody wrong this game," Howard said. "I'm competing against the best of the best in full pads, finally, and I can show them what I have. I know I have what it takes to play with those guys."
Howard is also looking forward to using his blocking skills for the first time against some of the nation's best defensive ends like Robert Nkemdiche, Carl Lawson and fellow Tide commitment DeMarcus Walker.
With former Alabama stars Julio Jones and Trent Richardson among the notable alumni from the Under Armour All-America Game, both Howard and Walker have a lot to live up to when they get to Florida to compete in January.
"Those guys, like Julio and Trent, they had a really good game in the Under Armour game," Howard said. "I'm going to try to follow in their footsteps, keep the tradition and try to put up pretty big numbers during the game just to let people know that Alabama has the top recruits. That's why you go to play with the best."
It will be quite a change when Howard enrolls at Alabama in January. But he won't forget where he came from and the "small" school that helped him get to where he is now.