KNOXVILLE — Alton Howard could have made the comfortable decision.
The four-star receiver from Orlando's Edgewater High School instead decided to chase one of his dreams.
Howard, who's nicknamed "Pig," publicly committed to Tennessee on Wednesday during a ceremony at his school. The 5-foot-9, 180-pounder picked the Volunteers over Central Florida, the hometown school where his half-brother, Quincy McDuffie, is a junior receiver.
"The reason I picked Tennessee was Coach [Terry] Joseph has been recruiting me real hard throughout the process," Howard said in a phone interview with the Times Free Press following his announcement. "I picked up a great connection with him, and my dream was always to play in the SEC. What stood out to me the most was just the fan support, the facilities and just in general the coaching staff and chemistry of the team and how the coaching staff cared about the team.
"It caught my attention, and it made me feel like I was at home. I loved everything about it."
Howard admitted it was difficult to pass up a chance to play close to home with the Golden Knights. He added he'll start his career with the Vols in January as an early enrollee, which will give him a head start on his career on the field and in the classroom.
Edgewater used Howard in a variety of ways, including as a receiver, running back and quarterback. With his speed and playmaking abilities, the Vols could use Howard's talent in a variety of ways as well. Howard's speed and explosiveness contradict his long-time nickname.
"When I was little, I was fat and I was fast," he said of his moniker. "That's the nickname my family called me."
Rivals.com rates Howard as the No. 46 receiver and No. 41 player in Florida, and 247sports.com ranks Howard 123rd nationally. He had other scholarship offers from Florida, Miami, Notre Dame, Ohio State, South Carolina and Southern Cal.
"He's one of those rare kids that just has the entire package," Edgewater coach Zac Yarbrough said Wednesday morning. "His physical talents are only just the beginning of what he can do. He understands the game mentally, he really cares about playing and he loves football. A lot of kids at the next level, everybody has the talent, but his drive and will will surpass a lot of others.
"He's one of those guys, he's explosive every time he touches the ball and he can make something exciting happen."
Howard caught 36 passes for 691 yards and six touchdowns this season. ESPN's scouting profile on Howard calls him a "human spark plug" and compared him to speedy Florida tailback Jeff Demps, an NCAA track champion. Yarbrough said there's more to Howard than his football abilities.
"He's a great kid," said the Eagles' first-year coach. "He was the student of the month here about two months ago. He's a pleasure to be around. The administration, teachers and everybody just loves him."
Howard is UT's 20th public verbal commitment and the Vols' fourth receiver for the 2012 class. The others are Keithon Redding (Decatur, Ga.), Jason Croom (Norcross, Ga.) and Drae Bowles (Jackson, Tenn.). National signing day is Feb. 1.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...