Sunday, April 26, 2009, most assuredly will go down as a banner day for LaRod Stephens-Howling.
A former Greater Johnstown High School star tailback, Stephens-Howling turned 22, graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and was taken by the Arizona Cardinals with the 240th overall pick in the seventh round during the NFL draft.
“I couldn’t think of a better birthday present,” Stephens-Howling said from his Johnstown home, where he watched the draft with some immediate family members.
“I was told the whole time that I could go from the sixth round to free agent,” he said. “I just tried to relax as much as I could and take my mind off it. Seattle and Arizona called me about being a free agent before I got drafted, so I was thinking I was only going to be a free agent.
“I got a phone call first, and I was just getting antsy. I had to leave the house and play catch for a little bit with my (5-year-old) nephew when the Cardinals called. (But) it’s a great feeling. ... We just celebrated mine (pick), then saw (former Pitt player) Rashad (Jennings). I felt good for him, and then we saw Derek Kinder. It was great to see guys you know get a chance.”
Stephens-Howling started 16 times in his 44-game Pitt career, and he ran for nearly 2,000 yards with 15 touchdowns. He also caught more than 50 passes for one score and had a 95-yard kickoff return as well. Stephens-Howling did not return punts, but he practiced it some to enhance his status.
“LaRod, I’m telling you, can do a lot of things for an NFL team,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. “He can return kicks, and he played on all our coverage (special) teams. He’s real fast, and he can catch the ball out of the backfield. He’s a very versatile back, and I think he’ll do well if he gets into a camp.”
Stephens-Howling said the Cardinals talked to him about his role.
“They want me to be playing running back as much as I can, but special teams is going to be a big part of it,” he said.
Stephens-Howling leaves for Arizona on Thursday for that first opportunity.
He joins former Panthers Larry Fitzgerald and Gerald Hayes with the Cardinals.