Rams' Howard beats long odds to earn opening-day roster slot
By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch
Saturday, Sep. 11 2004

On a day when the last thing Rams rookie Brian Howard wanted to hear was the
chime of his telephone, bells kept ringing in his room last Sunday at the
Sheraton Four Points hotel in Earth City.

Each time, he feared the worst - a team official telling him that he was among
the last cuts. But each time, it was his anxious mother, Sherri St. Hilaire.

"She was bugging me all day, calling me about every 10 minutes," said Howard,
who in exasperation finally ordered her to stop and to wait for him to phone
her. "I called her back at 3."

At that hour the roster had to be set at 53 players. And because Howard hadn't
heard from the folks down the road at Rams Park, he knew that he'd beaten long
odds and made the team. Howard, a 6-foot-4, 278-pound defensive tackle, is the
only undrafted rookie signed by the Rams in the offseason still remaining on
the active roster.

"All through minicamps and training camp, it's obviously a worry and a stress
on your mind pretty much all the time," said Howard, who is from Kent, Wash.
"Now that it's finally here ... it's pretty incredible. It's something you've
worked for and dreamed about your whole life."

Howard, 23, didn't show up with glitzy credentials. He never was an All-Big Sky
Conference selection while at Idaho. As a senior, he finished third on the team
in tackles. He earned more repute as a high school rugby player, where he twice
made the under-19 All-America team.

In training camp at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill., Howard's reps
increased substantially after Jimmy Kennedy, the Rams' first-round draft pick a
year ago, suffered a broken foot Aug. 5. Kennedy had surgery five days later
and isn't expected back until late November.

"That's obviously what you need, to get a shot and be able to make plays,"
Howard said. "If you're not in, you can't make plays."

Ultimately, Howard beat out eight-year NFL veteran Bernard Holsey to win his
roster spot.

Howard said defensive line coach Bill Kollar "told me when I first got here,
'You have a shot to make this team.' But they have different people they bring
in at different times ... when you're here, you've got to perform."

Until he survived the last cut, Howard never had a concrete feeling about his
status.

"For some reason, I'd kind of go back and forth a lot," he said. "Sometimes I'd
feel confident, and other days I'd just feel like I could be gone tomorrow."

The Rams were impressed enough to sign Howard to a three-year deal worth
$927,500, which should solidify his spot. Still, with all the roster shuffling
that took place this past week at Rams Park, Howard said he was assuming
nothing.

"You have a little bit of relief, but the thought's still in your mind that
you've got to produce to stay here," he said. "You see it all the time, people
leaving and getting cut at different times. You've just got to keep
performing."

Still, he's relishing Sunday's opener vs. Arizona at the Edward Jones Dome.

"It'll be real neat to be suited up for a regular-season game in the NFL,"
Howard said. "Obviously my hope is to get on the field and make plays; that's
why you're here."