As Everett Howland ran through multiple defenders with brute force on the offensive side of the ball and pummeled ball carriers and quarterbacks from his linebacker position on defense, it would have been impossible to know the injuries he had played through.
A year after a severely dislocated elbow ended his football season before the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 3A State Playoffs and also forced him to miss his entire junior season in the Rio Grande High School Hockey League, Howland was back on the field and ice.
Howland, son of Jim and Lynn Howland, rushed for 1,443 yards and 14 touchdowns and added 340 receiving yards and another three scores through the air. Defensively, he led DHS with six sacks and 61 total tackles to help the Demons to an 8-4 overall record and a state quarterfinal appearance in 2019. He would be named to the CHSAA Class 3A All-State First Team.
He immediately transitioned to high school hockey in the tri-state league with teams from Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. With 16 goals and 18 assists, he finished fifth in the league in total points en route to the Demons’ first league championship.
For his toughness and elite play, Howland was named The Durango Herald Boys Comeback Athlete of the Year for the 2019-2020 season. His performance was so sensational that he finished as the runner-up in consideration for The Durango Herald Boys Athlete of the Year to Bayfield state wrestling champion John Foutz.
“I kind of stick to the idea you only live one time, and you need to make the best of yourself in the one lifespan,” Howland said. “I try to push myself to be the best. I’ve had to deal with a lot of injuries. Coming back, for me it was pushing myself to achieve the highest potential I have inside of me. I always used everything I had to the best of my ability.
“I just wanted to make my parents proud. They put a lot of time and effort into taking me to games, paying for hotel rooms and making sure I always had good food. Since first grade, they’ve had to do a whole lot for me.”
The dislocated elbow, suffered Nov. 2, 2018 at Pueblo East, was far from Howland’s first injury. He had a dislocated collar bone as a freshman, and he shattered his right hand in a football practice his sophomore season. The broken hand happened during a Thursday practice, and he played the very next night and scored his first career touchdown against Aztec.
He would go on to have three surgeries on his hand, and he still needs at least one more surgery because of lingering problems.
“I can still only bend it to like a third of the way I should be able to,” Howland said. “Since all of the surgeries, I can write left handed now. I can do everything lefty because I’ve spent so much time in a cast or splint for the last two or three years. In football, I had to adjust my grip on the ball with my right hand, and I was real careful catching the ball with it so it didn’t hurt.”
Howland’s elbow injury did not require surgery, though he had that option. After three hand surgeries, he was happy to avoid another. His ulnar collateral ligament was the only ligament in his elbow that didn’t tear fully, but it was still partially torn. He was unable to play hockey as a junior, and doctors felt he should avoid hockey again as a senior. But, after a strong football season, he was hungry to get back onto the ice to play his favorite sport.
Howland credited the work of Dr. Brian Butzen with his surgeries and Dr. Douglas Houle for helping him regain strength. He also dedicated every day of the 2019 summer and fall to weight lifting.
“He took it very serious,” said DHS head football coach David Vogt. “We didn’t think he could come back stronger than the year before, but he out-lifted himself by another 100 pounds. He just put in all the hard work, and it showed on the field with how strong he was and how many big-time plays he made for us.”
Howland said the highlight of his football season was the CHSAA Class 3A State Playoffs first-round win against Palisade. Playing at home for the final time, Howland had a touchdown run of 92 yards and a game-changing 64-yard touchdown reception shortly before halftime in that 23-14 win.
“The day before the game, Ryan Woolverton (offensive coordinator) and Jordan Woolverton (quarterback) got with me after practice, and we created this new play,” Howland said of the 64-yard TD reception. “We practiced it five to 10 times. I never thought we would call it in the Palisade game, but we did. I kind of caught the ball with one hand, cut up right through the defense, made Cam Tucker miss the tackle down the sideline and scored. I was so surprised.”
It was in hockey that Howland would finally become a champion. A year earlier, he still went to every game, as his brother, Nathan, was on the team. When he finally got back on the ice as a senior, the Demons knew it was their chance to finally become champions.
“In football, there are 50 to 70 kids on the team. In hockey, we never had more than 20. It was such a tight-knit group that does everything together,” Howland said. “Just to be back out there and playing was so nice. In both football and hockey, we had been so close the past few years. People were saying Durango was going to be in the run for state. But I had never won a championship.
“In sixth grade, we almost won a championship in hockey, played at the Pepsi Center, but we lost the championship game. In high school, we had made it every year to the championship but lost. To go out against our rival, Telluride, and actually beat them and out-skate them and win the championship, that was an unbelievable feeling.”
Howland aims to continue to play hockey. He is considering attending Northern Arizona University to study business.
No matter what comes next, he will always look back fondly on a senior season in which he had overcome and avoided any more injuries.
“I never had a full year to show off my skills until senior year,” he said. “That was a big deal for me, and I felt like I took advantage of it and did pretty good.”
Editor’s note: The Durango Herald selected high school sports players of the year based on a unanimous decision between sports editor John Livingston and former sports writer Brendan Ploen. Increased consideration was given to multi-sport athletes who showed leadership in their communities.