With the departure of Dan Snyder and the arrival of a new ownership group that includes Josh Harris and Magic Johnson, it’s been a thrilling off-season for Washington Commanders fans. But rebuilding a winning tradition will take more than competent owners. It also will require the right quarterback. To that end, Head Coach Ron Rivera on Friday announced that Sam Howell would be the starting quarterback for the team’s first game against the Arizona Cardinals on September 10. Howell, who started one game last year, is slated to be the seventh different quarterback to start a season opener for the Commanders in the past seven years. As the team prepares to take on the Baltimore Ravens tonight in their second-to-last preseason game, here are five things to know about Sam Howell.
1. He has Korean roots.
Howell’s ancestral roots stretch from North Carolina to Asia. His grandmother, a South Korean national named Han, met her future husband, an American serviceman named Bruce Howell, in 1960, when he was stationed in South Korea. They eventually settled in North Carolina. The 22-year-old quarterback says he takes great pride in his Korean heritage. “I just think it’s an awesome part of me that I want people to know about,” he told commanders.com.
2. He was a UNC star.
Howell stayed close to home for college, enrolling at the University of North Carolina in 2019. By the time he was through, he had emerged as one of the best quarterbacks in UNC’s history, setting school records for passing yards, touchdowns, and total offense. When he decided to leave UNC after three years and declare himself eligible for the NFL draft, some speculated that he could be a first-round pick. Others, like ESPN’s Todd McShay, marveled at his potential. “I think he throws the best deep ball of any quarterback in this [draft] class,” McShay said. “The touch, the teardrop that he’s able to drop in between defenders and hit his wide receivers in stride.”
3. The Commanders swooped in.
In the end, Howell was selected not in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft but in the fifth—a drop in value that Jordan Dajani of CBS Sports attributed to his underwhelming final college season. As a result, the Washington Commanders were able to scoop him up with the 144th overall pick of the draft. “To have Sam fall to us was something we had to jump on,” Rivera told The Washington Post. “We had a very good grade on him—he was, at that point, the highest guy left on our board….We feel this was a home run for us.”
4. He won the job.
Following the implosion of last year’s primary starter, Carson Wentz, and the departure via free agency of backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke, Howell was in line for the top job heading into training camp. During the preseason, he impressed the coaching staff enough to earn the position over veteran quarterback Jacoby Brissett. “He sees the field really well, and he’s going to give us [a] chance to make opportunities on the perimeter,” Commanders wide receiver Terry McLaurin said of Howell. “He’s been the same guy since we started camp, since he stepped in at the last game last year. He’s just really poised.”
5. He’s never had a hamburger.
Howell appears to be an especially disciplined athlete. In college, he made sure to get to bed early, and he said he consumed neither alcohol nor tobacco. “I just don’t see the point of drinking, man,” he once told an interviewer. “I’ve been waiting for someone to give me a good reason why I should drink.”
Still, it’s a different aspect of Howell’s diet that has attracted the most attention. In December 2020, Howell explained to another journalist that he is quite the picky eater. “In the interview,” according to ABC11, a local news station in Central North Carolina, “Howell revealed that since childhood, he has only ever eaten chicken. Mostly nuggets and tenders. That’s fine for a 4-year old, but so far into adulthood, Howell has seen no need to deviate. He won’t get anywhere near seafood and—read carefully here—claims to have never had a bite of steak or even so much as a hamburger.”
In case you’re wondering, Howell’s meatless diet isn’t ideologically rooted. According to ABC11, he simply has no interest in expanding his horizons.