By STEVE KRAH
That’s fitting since Howard wants his Cougars to play the game fast and put pressure on opponents.
Since starting in January and hitting the recruiting trail, Howard and his assistants — associate head coach/pitching coach Joe Thatcher (a Kokomo High School graduate who pitched in the big leagues), recruiting coordinator Zach Hall (who played at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.) and infield/assistant hitting coach Jason Leone (who played at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo.) — have built a roster and begun establishing a culture.
“We want to play fast,” says says Howard, who used his speed as a outfielder to a be an NCAA Division II All-American and Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Player of the Year at Slippery Rock State University and was an assistant at Chestnut Hill College, where the Griffins were consistently among the D-II leaders in stolen bases. “We want guys that understand the game and play the game hard. We want to put pressure on the defense and take advantage of any mistake they make.”
A Philadelphia, Pa., native, Howard served three seasons as manager of the Kokomo Jackrabbits of the summer collegiate Prospect League (2014-16) and was on the baseball staffs at Ball State University, LaSalle University and Chestnut Hill after his collegiate playing career.
Howard and his IU Kokomo staff have a group of 38 for 2017-18 and are now working on the recruiting class of 2018-19.
“We’re just looking for the best student-athlete we can find,” says Howard. IUK has about 3,000 students — many of them of commuters.
What attracted him to the heart of Indiana?
“Kokomo is a special place,” says Howard. “It’s a baseball town. We’re at an institution where we can attract a very strong student-athlete
“Our athletic department is young and looking to add sports strategically and run them in a competitive manner,” says Howard.
By having nearly 40 players, its creates competition within the squad and gives the Cougars some depth as they go through fall ball activities. Practices will wrap in a few weeks and players will hit the weight room. When classes begin again after winter break on Jan. 8, the team will kick it into gear as it prepares for the inaugural season opener Feb. 9 at Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn. It’s the first of three straight weekend series in Tennessee. The home opener on the turf at Kokomo Municipal Stadium is Feb. 27 against Indiana Wesleyan.
At 28, Howard is one of the younger head coaches in NAIA baseball. He sees it as a positive.
“It’s an advantage,” says Howard. “I have a lot of energy and passion for what I do. I’m out everyday to prove I’m the guy for the job. I’m able to get my players on the field more.
“Baseball is a beautiful game that teaches a lot of life lessons and about (dealing with) failure. Baseball is a tough game to play. You need to take the positives from the negatives.”
Matt Howard, 28, is the head coach of a brand new NAIA baseball program at Indiana University Kokomo. He is a Philadelphia, Pa., native who was an NCAA Division II All-American at Slippery Rock State University. (IU Kokomo Photo)