By Trevor Suffield
Dec. 4, 2008
When Markus Howell was a student at Daniel McIntyre Collegiate, he used to purposely miss catching the bus at one side of the Arlington Street bridge, then sprint to catch it at the other end.
While this kind of training might seem out of the ordinary, it’s hard to argue with the results it produced.
Howell, 33, was a member of the Calgary Stampeders team that beat the host Montreal Alouettes 22-14 in this year’s Grey Cup, held Nov. 23 in Olympic Stadium.
“It’s surreal right now, it feels good. It’s validating all that hard work you put in,” Howell said of his team’s Grey Cup win.
Howell was originally drafted by the hometown Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2000 and played with them for five seasons before signing with the Ottawa Renegades. He joined Calgary in 2006 after the Stamps selected him in the Ottawa dispersal draft.
The former Daniel Mac Maroon was a jack of all trades for the Stamps this past season. In addition to returning punts, he also saw action as a receiver and defensive back. He ranked fifth on the team in all-purpose yards (913) during the regular season and was the Stamps’ leading punt returner (591 yards on 67 returns).
This year’s Grey Cup was the second time Howell got to play in the CFL’s premiere game. He was a member of the Bombers in 2001 when they lost to the Stampeders in that year’s championship.
Howell said he kept reminding his Calgary teammates this year about his missed shot — and warned them not to take this opportunity for granted.
Howell grew up in north Winnipeg and was heavily into basketball and track and field. Surprisingly, he didn’t begin playing organized football until his senior year of high school.
Brad Purpur, who was Howell’s football coach at Daniel McIntyre, talked him into trying the game by promising him that it would make him a better player on the basketball court.
“Once he came out we knew right away that he was the kind of guy we had to get the ball to,” said Purpur, head of the Phys. Ed. department at Daniel Mac.
Purpur pushed Howell, then a skinny kid, to work out and really study football.
“He worked hard at making sure his patterns were crisp, and his cuts were good and his hands were always in the right position to catch the ball,” the former coach recalled.
“As time went on he became our go-to guy, catching almost anything coming towards him.”
After high school, Howell went on to study and play ball at Texas Southern University. While there, he earned a degree in finance, but wasn’t sure about a career as a football player.
“At that point you don’t know if you’re going to be a pro ball player or not, you’re just going down there to further your education. But once you hit your senior year, and scouts start showing up, and CFL teams come down to watch you play, you realize you have a shot at this thing,” said Howell, who lives in Garden City in the off-season.
Howell has taken off-season jobs at various taxation and banking institutions and is considering a full-time career in finance when is football career is over.
That time could be sooner rather than later. After nine seasons as a pro, Howell has begun spending a lot more time contemplating his post-football life recently.
“I’d like to be in foreign exchange somewhere, dealing with different currencies, but I got to leave Winnipeg for that,” he said, adding that he hopes he can find a job in his hometown.
Still, Howell isn’t quite done with football yet.
“We’re already talking repeat. The Grey Cup is in Calgary next year so we have a good chance of playing in that game at home and winning another one,” he says.