Gateway Class of 1986
As a Gateway Football Star, Verne Howard had many remarkable qualities. He was humble, quiet and the ultimate team player. He would do whatever his coaches asked of him. He was big, strong, extremely talented and dominant at his position. He led by example on and off the field. His coaches, teachers and teammates knew that he was a person that led by his actions. He understood the Gateway intangibles; respect, tradition, togetherness and attitude. Verne is one of those rare individuals that never forgot where he came from, always a true Gator at heart. His successes in Gateway athletics and his love for Gateway helped build the foundation for his future endeavors in sports and in life. Verne was an integral part of Gateway football successes in the mid 1980’s. The Gateway Sports Hall of Fame is extremely proud to have Verne inducted here tonight.
Verne first began playing football for the Monroeville Midget Program in 1978 at the age of ten. This endeavor, along with his athletic ability, guided his interest to play for the Monroeville Jr. High School on the offensive and defensive line.
During the earlier years of Verne’s football involvement, he along with Harvey and Terry Smith, John and Nathan Gay, Danny and Darren Jackson, Neil and Derek Earl, Jerry Lee, Timothy Byrd and several others including Clint Ramsey and Robert McKinley, all played football right on Firethorn Drive. Firethorn Drive was the breeding ground for this band of brothers to push each other to be competitive, to work hard, and have fun. This “dynamic” group of athletes embraced the opportunity to strengthen their skills on their own turf, after school and on weekends. Their friendship developed and still thrives to this day. This youthful, backyard recreation was the springboard that laid the groundwork for expected excellence and high achievement, which was essential for Verne’s next level of play.
Later Verne went on to Gateway High School in 1983 and started Jr. Varsity and played Varsity in his sophomore year. Continuing to develop his skills during practice and game time, Verne’s outstanding athletic competence led to the position of defensive end. He remained a starter for two seasons before graduating in 1986. During high school, Verne also played basketball, though he did not favor this sport over football.
During his junior season he started to attract the interest of many Division I colleges including the University of Pittsburgh, West Virginia University, Penn State University, Temple University, Memphis State University, Michigan State University, North Carolina State University, Arizona State University, Rutgers University, Syracuse University, University of Louisville, University of Southern California, Wake Forest University, Georgia Tech. University, University of Richmond, University of Tennessee, Texas A&M University, and many others. Eventually, he chose to accept a full scholarship to West Virginia University to be a Mountaineer as a linebacker in 1986.
Verne achieved several honors during his junior and senior seasons as a defensive end at Gateway High School. He was one of the Gateway Gators Defensive Co-Captains. Verne was named as the 1985 Gateway Press East Suburban Football All-Star First Team Defensive End, Nominee for the 1985-1986 Edition of Outstanding High School Athletes, and started as defensive end during the WPIAL Championship games against Mount Lebanon and North Hills in 1984 and 1985 respectively. He was the 1984 Times Express All-Star Team-Honorable Mention Defensive End. He was named to the Post-Gazette East Fabulous 22 team as one of the top players in Western Pennsylvania. Verne was one of the Post-Gazette Top 25 WPIAL and City College Football Prospects, USA Today’s States Top High School Prospects, Joe Butler’s Metro Index Players to Watch, and a Nominee for Max Emfingers National High School Magazine. In addition, Verne was selected to play in the Big 33 All-Star game and represented Gateway High School in Hershey, PA.
Verne entered the West Virginia University Football Program as a linebacker and later made the transition to defensive tackle, weighing 245lbs. He would eventually welcome the position of offensive tackle as he grew to 6’5″, 325lbs. And bench pressed 435lbs. Verne went to Morgantown with a large scrapbook of press clipping and big dreams of playing defense. It seemed he was destined for big things coming out of Gateway, one of the top programs in the country, but things did not go as planned. He never envisioned having to play the waiting game and not playing in the game. Most of all, he never imagined that he would end up playing on the offensive line. He recalled what was told to him in high school about the O line, “offensive line was the worst position, it is the bottom of the barrel.” Certainly it was discouraging at times for Verne as an offensive tackle. Verne felt like giving up because of his failure to meet his personal expectations and fear of letting his family down. His parents wouldn’t let him give up. They encouraged him to hang in there, stating, “the road may seem hard, but it’s worthwhile in the end.” Both his mother and father stood faithfully behind him, praying for him many times over the telephone to keep him focused on his purpose-“get your degree for free.” Unfortunately, his father became ill with cancer during this time and that caused deep emotional distress for Verne. Despite this tragic occurrence, he persevered and kept working hard and finally became a starter in his senior season. Verne realized that the many hours of watching film, working out and not quitting was worthwhile in the end. He knew his mom was right as usual.
Every game Verne started was not taken for granted. After all, it had taken three years to get the opportunity to prove to himself he did belong there as a Mountaineer. He enjoyed playing with the ranks of his new band of brothers-Major Harris, Rico Tyler, Jim Gray, and Jamie LeMon. He was living a dream. Verne participated in the 1987 Sun Bowl vs. Oklahoma State University and the 1988 National Championship Fiesta Bowl vs. University of Notre Dame. He also played in the 1989 Gator Bowl vs. Clemson University. Another notable highlight for Verne during his senior year was when he came back home to play Pitt in the “Backyard Brawl.” West Virginia’s offensive line was able to total 378 yards rushing against the Pitt Panthers. Offensive lines in general don’t get credit for much, but that day, they got credit for having the second best rushing day for a WVU running back in almost 20 years. Verne lettered his senior year and achieved recognition on the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll.
Verne graduated from West Virginia University in 1991 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Sports Management. After graduation, he was invited to be a Graduate Assistant with the football team. During that time period, he pursued and received his Master of Science Degree in Safety and Environmental Management in 1992.
Verne has been employed in the criminal justice system since graduation. He was appointed by the United States District Court, Judge Donald L. Ziegler, in January 1997, to the position of United States Probation Officer. Currently Verne is involved in national youth and high school football camps and combines to develop and evaluate young athletes. In addition, he volunteers his time as a youth football coach, a general manager for an AAU travel basketball team and is the number one fan of his children and their activities.
Verne is married to wife, Betty Howard. They have two children, daughter Sydney, age 15 and son Aidan, age 12.