Former Carleton Raven Prepares For Rookie Year With Redblacks

Photo credit: Tyler Rabb

Justin Howell did not start playing organized football until tenth grade. Now just six years later, he could be suiting up at defensive back for the Ottawa Redblacks.

The Redblacks selected Howell in the seventh round of the 2018 Canadian Football League (CFL) Draft. He was a late addition to CFL draft boards, having put his name in the discussion off of great regional and national CFL combine performances. 

He hails from Bradford, Ontario but spent the last four years in Ottawa playing for Carleton University. Howell was one of two Ravens selected by the Redblacks in this year’s draft, alongside Kene Onyeka (taken in the fourth round). They are the first Ravens to be selected by the Ottawa franchise since Carleton resurrected its football program in 2013.

The former Ravens just got their first taste of professional football with the Redblacks 2018 training camp.

“There was a bit of an adjustment period the first few days, but then you get adjusted to pro life and how things work,” said Justin Howell. “You just get back to being a football player and doing the things that got you this far.”

Howell has taken first-team reps at training camp and is listed as a free safety on the team’s preseason depth chart. On practicing with established CFL veterans, the 21-year-old said that his biggest lesson thus far has been about communicating with his teammates.

“Getting reps with the [first-team] here and there has been a nice learning experience. I get to go out there and play with guys that have played at this level for a long time,” said Howell.

Heading into the 2017 CFL season, the Redblacks secondary that helped win them the 104th Grey Cup was hemorrhaged. Four of the team’s top defensive backs departed during the offseason, including three to join NFL training camp rosters.

This spelled trouble for the 2017 campaign. Although the team boasted one the top defenses against the run, the Redblacks were attacked through the air. No team faced more pass attempts than the Ottawa secondary. As a result, they gave up the third-most passing yards per game last season (316.6 yards on average) and tallied the second-least interceptions as a team.

Howell is the only defensive back the Redblacks selected in the 2018 CFL Draft. Along with free-agent pickup Rico Murray (a two-time CFL East all-star), Howell could have a role in giving a boost to the Ottawa secondary.

At this early stage however for Howell, it is about self-improvement on a day-by-day basis. That may include being an early contributor on special teams this season. During his time at Carleton, he was a force on the kick-off and punt return coverage units.

“I’m just focused on getting better each day, whether that’s defensively or special teams,” said Howell. “I’m just trying to make sure that whatever role the coaching staff has for me, I’ll be ready. I just want to do my part to help this team achieve its goals.”

Howell says the feeling amongst the team is great as the Redblacks are now mere weeks away from the start of the regular season.

“The coaching staff really [does] a great job at keeping us focused on the task at hand. We just take things day by day, and worry about getting better at what we do. It’s a special feeling in there though, no doubt. I hope I can be a part of it,” said Howell.

Ottawa will play its final preseason game this Thursday at the University of Guelph Alumni Stadium against the Argonauts.