Almost every other day over the past five months, Lamesa Parker-Howard has posted various pictures and messages on Facebook about her son O.J. Howard.
They routinely flooded her page. Numerous images of the family following one of O.J.’s football games, web links to sports articles about him and status updates expressing her potential sadness about the dreadful day when “Juicy” leaves for college.
It’s simply a loving mother’s way of holding on to those dear precious moments spent with her son before he leaves the nest.
“It has been emotional,” Parker-Howard said. “It really hit me when he went off to stay (at a hotel) for a few days during the AISA All-Star Game — he was still here in Prattville at that time, too. Just walking in the house and going past his bedroom knowing that he’s not there, I realized then.”
Most parents are usually able to spend an entire academic year enjoying those tender moments before their child ventures off to explore new territory by themselves. However, when you’re the parent of a highly recruited prep athlete, often times you are left with the shorter version.
A five-star tight end commitment of Alabama, Howard graduated early from Autauga Academy in order to enroll for classes in an attempt to get an early jump on the rest of Nick Saban’s 2013 recruiting class.
He’ll begin spring courses in Tuscaloosa on Jan 9.
“I think it’s going to be a big plus for me,” said Howard, who can’t officially sign with the Crimson Tide until Feb. 6. “Coaches never recommend that you come in early, but they do believe it’s a big thing if you can do it. It’s going to be a big step, but I think I am ready for the challenge.”
In trying to decide whether to forgo the remainder of his senior year, Howard sought out the advance of current Crimson Tide star Dee Milliner, who graduated early from Stanhope Elmore in 2010 to get a head start on the competition.
“Dee told me it was times that he felt like it was too tough, and he wanted to give up,” Howard said. “But at the same time, he came out and played as a true freshman and now has the possibility of leaving early (for the NFL draft) this year.
“They tell you that you’ll go through a stage of depression because you are up there by yourself without any of your classmates or friends. “It’s going to be pretty tough, but at the same time, it’s going to pay off when the season starts with me having the jump on everybody else.”
Generals coach Mike Sims views the move as positive also.
“O.J. has always been a big fish in a small pond here, now he’s going to be a small fish in a big pond there,” said Sims, who coached Howard all four seasons. “The speed and pace of the game and the size of the athletes are going to be key in the transition, so getting accustomed to those things will only help him in the transition phase.”
Thursday morning’s ceremony was just another indication that the days are dwindling away for Parker-Howard, who says she finds comfort in the Tuscaloosa campus being a little over an hour drive from the family’s Autaugaville home.
But there’s one more trip in store for mother and son to enjoy. On Jan. 4, the Howards will travel to Florida to see O.J. suit up in the 2013 Under Armor All-American Game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
“The last couple of weeks have been hard because it seems like everything is our last,” said Parker-Howard, a married mother of three. “I tell (my family) don’t talk about it when we’re out eating because I’d break down and start crying.”
Howard easily goes down as the most heavily recruited player in AISA history. He broke numerous records at Autauga, earned consecutive all-state selections and shined the national spotlight on an athletic association that’s only comprised of 40 football teams.
“O.J. is an amazing talent,” said Edgewood coach Bobby Carr, who coached Howard in the AISA All-Star Game. “Alabama isn’t just getting an amazing talent, but they’re getting a good kid, too. He’s got a big future in front of him.”