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Top CB Tracy Howard finds his focus

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- ESPNU 150 defensive back Tracy Howard (Miramar, Fla./Miramar) doesn't have time for video games.

He doesn't have time for fishing or golf or bowling or anything else that could occupy his down time.

The nation's top-rated cornerback would much rather play football. And when he's not playing football, there's a good chance he's thinking about playing football.

"Football is my passion and my hobby, too, I guess," Howard said. "I really just try to focus on being the best I can when I'm out there on the field."

There's little doubt that persistence has paid off for Howard. The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder is ranked No. 19 overall and widely regarded as the best cornerback in a state that's loaded with top players at the position, such as Brian Poole (Bradenton, Fla./Southeast) and Amos Leggett (Miami/South Miami).

His defensive stats aren't eye popping and it's generally because opponents show Howard the ultimate level of respect.

"They don't test him," Miramar head coach Damon Cogdell said. "Everyone knows what Tracy is capable of so he gets his most work in practices against Malcolm [Lewis]."

Lewis, also an ESPNU 150 prospect, is Howard's best friend and quite possibly his toughest challenge.

"Oh yeah, we battle in practice and it's always competitive," Lewis said. "I know how good he is and he knows how good I am so we always try to bring something new to the table."

Howard says the battles have been beneficial to both players.

"I have to beat Malcolm around a little bit," Howard joked. "You know I have to make him better."

Even though he doesn't find much action in the games, Howard is a regular face on the camp circuit and enjoys the opportunities he has to line up against some of the state's best.

"I really like going against Amari Cooper (Miami/Northwestern). He and Malcolm are probably the best two receivers I've ever faced," Howard said. "Stacey Coley (Oakland Park, Fla./Northeast) is really good, too, and he's just a junior so he's getting better all the time.

"Brandon Snell (Miami/Norland) is another really good one. I'll be facing him in the season opener."

Howard's love of competition is one of his biggest strengths and one of the reasons why every top program in the nation is trying to get him on campus.

Miami, West Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina are some of the schools still trying to get close to Howard. For many months, Howard was thought to be leaning toward Florida, but now he says Florida State, Notre Dame, LSU and Alabama have all climbed into the picture.

"I like Florida, they are definitely in my top five, but I'm pretty open to everyone and I want to check all these schools out," Howard said. "Notre Dame has come in the picture late and I'm looking at them.

"I'm going to get to FSU over the summer because my sister is going to FAMU and I've never been to Tallahassee. If I go to a school out of state, I could really see myself at LSU or Alabama."

Recruiting is a big part of Howard's life these days, but he chooses to control the process rather than let it control him.

"I stay levelheaded about the recruiting," Howard said. "I have my family and good coaches around me so they allow me to stay focused about the things I need to do on and off the field. Coach Cogdell is so supportive, my teammates and everyone. We are family around here."

"I can't say I don't worry about recruiting because I worry about it, but I know I'm going to try to make the right choice."

For the program lucky enough to land Howard, it will have a hard time keeping him off the field -- and not necessarily just during Saturdays in the fall. For Howard, football is something he could do 365 days a year.

"I need to find him a hobby," said Shaiy Howard, Tracy's mother. "I mean let him bowl or fish or play tennis. I told him I'd pay for it, whatever it is.

"But he's just not doing it. He always says 'Mom, I love football, that's my hobby.' "

Howard admits that his life tends to center around the pigskin.

"My mom says I need a hobby. I really don't mess with anything but football," Howard said. "I'll go out, but it's not really me. Maybe I went bowling a couple years ago. But you know every time the family is doing things I've usually got something football-related going on. And I'm not missing a football game."

Shaiy Howard says sometimes her son will go as far as to put on his helmet and practice jersey and walk around the house. She's got pictures to prove it.

"He will just be walking around the house with his helmet on and I'm like, 'Son, what are you doing?'" Shaiy Howard said. "And he says he's going to go practice some footwork out in the front yard or maybe go work on some routes with Malcolm.

"He just wants to be the best. He is a big fan of Darrelle Revis and I think he sees how hard those guys work and he wants to put in the same work. But you know, I want him to take a break every now and then."

Still, his mother and father, Tracy Howard Sr., are unquestionably his biggest fans. While Tracy Jr. is embattled in a game against Plant (Tampa), Shaiy Howard alternates between cheering for her son and updating Tracy Sr. on the score of the game.

"He's a great kid, and even though I mess with him about finding a hobby, really I couldn't ask for more in a son," Shaiy Howard said. "I just love him with all my heart and I want him to be successful."

When describing his love of the game Howard Jr. says it allows him to be in his own world.

"When I'm on the field, I don't have to really think about anything else, it's like all my problems go away," Howard said. "I don't know why that is, but it makes me happy."