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Gophers new safety Jordan Howden has some Antoine Winfield Jr.-like moments in his past

October 4, 2018

Gophers safety Antoine Winfield Jr., in coach P.J. Flecks estimation, is one of the best players in the country. Winfield, however, wont play in Saturdays homecoming game against Iowa or in any other contest this season because of a foot injury suffered in the Big Ten opener.

In place of Winfield, who might be the most indispensable player on the team, the Gophers are turning to Jordan Howden, a true freshman walk-on from Las Vegas.

No pressure, kid.

Hes a gamer, said Tico Rodriguez, Howdens coach at Desert Pines High School, the reigning Nevada Class 3A state champion. He pretty much locked everybody down that we put him against.

That Howden is with the Gophers is a story in itself. He didnt join the program until June after receiving a walk-on offer. He was an under-the-radar recruit, Rodriguez believes, because he transferred from Vista Murrieta High School in Murrieta, Calif., to Desert Pines for his senior season after his parents moved to Las Vegas.

He kind of got lost in the shuffle, but he dominated in Nevada, said Rodriguez, who used Howden in a Winfield-like role by matching him against the opponents best player, be it as a safety or a cornerback. I was shocked other schools didnt jump on him, because Ive had guys go to the Pac-12. I thought he was better.

Howden who per team policy regarding true freshmen cant speak to the media had interest from FCS-level Idaho State before Gophers defensive backs coach Jahmile Addae saw film of him. They really liked his length, Rodriguez said of the 5-11, 185-pounder. I thought the kid was a diamond in the rough.

Howden played in the first three games of the Gophers season and was thrust into the first-team role when Winfield was injured on the first series at Maryland. He showed some freshman moments, such as a missed tackle on Ty Johnsons 81-yard touchdown run, but coaches and teammates are confident hell rebound. Fleck even said that Howden wont be a walk-on for long.

We threw him in the fire there, and thats going to pay dividends for us down the road, said defensive coordinator Robb Smith, who added that multiple players will help fill Winfields role. Hes an extremely smart young football player, and he cares a lot.

Added senior defensive back Antonio Shenault: Hes going to play with way more confidence this week.

Rodriguez expects just that. In Howdens debut at Desert Pines, he returned two interceptions for touchdowns.

Thats when I knew, Rodriguez said, andthinsp;Wow, this kids special.andthinsp;

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