Robbie Howard Overpowers Adversity
Leading into his senior year in high school, Robbie suffered a significant shoulder injury that included ligament tears.
Rather than opting for surgery and therefore missing his senior year, Howard rehabbed his shoulder while training and wrestling through constant pain and discomfort.
Somehow and someway Robbie was able to power through the shoulder pain, and at the conclusion of his senior year he was the lone gladiator at the center of the mat with his hand raised.
Howard’s win crowned him a New Jersey state champion for the second time in his high school career.
But the rehab and wrestling were too much for his shoulder and he opted to have surgery to repair the damage. Which meant his true freshman season in Happy Valley was in jeopardy of not happening at all.
So that was factor No. 1.
Factor No. 2 was the pandemic.
Seemingly everyone’s lives were turned upside down in March 2020 and a high school student going through shoulder surgery while also trying to acclimate to their freshman year in college away from home, was no exception to this.
The 2021 Big Ten Wrestling
season was drastically shortened and Penn State only participated in six total dual meets.
In the first three duals against Indiana, Northwestern, and Wisconsin, the Nittany Lions forfeited each of their matches at 125. With Howard’s shoulder surgery and uncertain timeframe to return, it looked like the Nittany Lions would have to punt the entire season at 125.
But then in mid-January the Penn State Wrestling training staff cleared Howard to start wrestling. And in the Nittany Lions’ dual meet against Michigan on February 14th, Robert Howard made his Penn State debut by winning a decision against Jack Medley.
Robbie then lost to Malik Heinselman (5-2) and pinned Zach Spencer in the remaining two duals of the season.
Just like that, with only three collegiate matches under his belt, it was time for Howard to take part in his first ever Big Ten Wrestling Championships.
Would Robbie be ready? Would his shoulder hold up?
The answer to both questions would be a resounding “Yes” based on the circumstances laid down at his feat.
Howard went a combined 3-3 in the 2021 Big Tens and he took down his first ranked grappler in Michigan’s Dylan Ragusin. Robbie’s performance was good enough for him to get into the 2021 NCAA Championships and it was a chance for him to prove to the country how good he could be.
Robbie’s first round opponent was no other than Ohio State’s Malik Heinselman.
At that point the talented Buckeye was a three-time NCAA qualifier and he had bested Howard on two other occasions that year.
But this time Robbie was the one in control as he took Heiselman out in the opening round match to the tune of a 6-4 decision. Up next was Utah Valley’s Taylor LaMont who at that time was already a two-time NCAA qualifier.
Howard gave LaMont everything he had, but in the end it just wasn’t enough as the youngster lost a heartbreaking 2-1 decision. Taylor LaMont ended up finishing as an All-American that year (5th place) so it was clear Robbie could compete with the best.
Another two-time NCAA qualifier stood in Howard’s way in the consolation bracket, Chattanooga’s Fabian Gutierrez. And unfazed by the presence and experience of a seasoned grappler, Howard stuck to his game plan and knocked Gutierrez out of the 2021 NCAA Championships with a back-and-forth 9-7 decision.
The win moved Robbie into the round of 12 in his first ever NCAA Championship and in only the 12th match of his college career.
But as the Nittany Lion faithful know, this is where Howard’s Cinderella run came to an end as Minnesota’s Patrick McKee pinned him 2:04 into the match.
And at the conclusion of the 2021 NCAA Championships three things were evident; Robert Howard is talented, his shoulder appeared to be fully healed, and the Nittany Lions would have a future contender at 125 pounds for the first time in a handful of years.
The 2021-2022 season was going to be Robert Howard’s coming out party.
Only the Howard-train never left the station.