That weird feeling North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell described that came from watching from the sidelines for the first time in his career probably won’t repeat itself on Friday.
Howell is feeling fine and with that, and so are the Tar Heels about their chances of winning at N.C. State in Carter-Finley Stadium when the teams meet for their annual rivalry game.
Howell missed Saturday’s win over Wofford while recovering from an upper-body injury he suffered in UNC’s overtime loss at Pitt. It was the first time in the 36 games Howell has been at Carolina that he did not start for the Tar Heels.
“I feel like I’m getting better every single day, making progress every day,” said Howell of his injury. “So just keep working out, keep getting treatment, just keep challenging myself in that area and kind of see where see where I get at the end of the week.”
UNC coach Mack Brown revealed last week that Howell would return to the field for the game against the Wolfpack. Although Howell is still getting treatment for his injury — which was described only as an upper-body injury to his non-throwing side — he doesn’t have to be eased back into practice.
Brown didn’t want to talk Tuesday about Howell’s recovery process, but the junior participated in practice to the extent that he said that Howell, “looked great” on Monday.
UNC offensive coordinator Phil Longo added that he believed holding Howell out of the Wofford game was more of a “precautionary” measure.
“We’re back to work, he’s back to work, he’s good,” Longo said. “It was an interesting experience, as we’ve talked about, not being able to go out there. But he took it in stride and did things the right way. And I know he was jacked up about being out at practice again, (Monday) flipping balls around and doing the things that he’s been doing for the last three years.”
Howell has not lost to the Pack in his previous two meetings — a 41-10 win in Raleigh in 2019 and a 48-21 win in Chapel Hill last season. And he’s well aware that the Atlantic Division title and a spot in the ACC championship game is still at stake for N.C. State.
“They’re having a good year so it’d be fun to give them our best shot and see what we got,” Howell said. “ ... We’ll probably be underdogs to a team that we feel like here we should beat every single year.”
Howell’s place in program history is secured by his stats. He’s the all-time leader in passing yards, passing touchdowns and total yards. He’s thrown a touchdown pass in every game he’s started, which now totals 35 consecutive games and is the longest active streak in the nation.
But a win over N.C. State? In a season that failed to live up to expectations? That’s the kind of narrative that helps cement legacies — especially if it ends up being his last game in a Carolina uniform.
Howell on Monday again said he’s not thinking about his future and declaring for the NFL draft. But there’s a chance, if he does as expected and officially announces he’s leaving UNC early, that could also mean he sits out of the Tar Heels’ bowl game like four players who turned pro did last season.
“Sam’s tough, he’s a competitor and he would want to play in this game,” Brown said. “Because he knows how important it is to his team, his university and this state. So he’ll be excited about Friday night.”