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Hounds linebacker named D-II All-American

Eastern senior linebacker Jeff Howard forces a fumble against rival West Texas A&M. (Freedom Newspapers: Kevin Wilson)

PORTALES — Eastern New Mexico University senior linebacker Jeff Howard has been named to the 2004 American Football Coaches Association All-America team, becoming the third ENMU player chosen to the elite squad in 11 seasons.

Howard led the Greyhounds in tackles in each of the past two years. In the 2004 campaign, he intercepted three passes and returned two of them for touchdowns.

“It was really a nice honor, especially with the coaches voting,” said Howard, a Portales High grad and three-year starter for the Hounds. “I was kind of (surprised) because I know how political those things can get. But I was hopeful because I knew I had some pretty good stats.”

Howard was a first-team All-Lone Star Conference South selection, but was only a second-team choice on the All-Southwest Region squad, voted on by sports information directors in the region.

“I’m just extremely proud of Jeff,” said outgoing ENMU football coach Bud Elliott, who is retiring this month after a 48-year coaching career.

“I think he deserves everything he gets. He played well enough to get (the coaches award), and he works so hard as a player.”

Other ENMU players who have been AFCA Division II All-Americans include defensive back and former NFL player Conrad Hamilton in 1994, and linebacker and current ENMU assistant coach Mike Walton in 1998 and 1999.

“I’m just super-proud of Jeff Howard, and we’re just really happy that he’s received this award,” said ENMU defensive coordinator Mark Ribaudo, who has been named to replace Elliott next season at the helm. “He wasn’t always just physically prepared, he was also mentally prepared, and I think that separates the top players.”

Howard’s father, ENMU offensive coordinator Mike Howard, said he was thrilled for his son.

“It was fabulous; I’m thankful it worked out that way,” the elder Howard said. “(Senior free safety) Ty Touchstone was an NCAA Division II Academic All-American, and those things reflect on the quality of our defensive football team.”

Howard has also been chosen to play for the West squad in the Cactus Bowl all-star game on Jan. 7 at Kingsville, Texas, an all-star game that gives top Division II players a chance to be seen by NFL scouts.

Howard, a biology major who plans to marry ENMU women’s basketball player Laci Lee on June 4, has some thoughts about a pro career. But, with another year of school left after next spring, he said he plans to take it as it comes.

“I’m just trying to take things day by day, finishing up the semester and working out,” he said. “I’ll just try to play the best I can and let the chips fall where they may.”