No matter the size of the role, Greater Johnstown product LaRod Stephens-Howling was certain to make as big an impact.
The fact that the “Johnstown Jet” stood at 5-foot-7 inches was no detriment, regardless of where he played.
As a high-schooler, Stephens-Howling was instrumental in restoring the swagger tothe Johnstown Trojans program, rushing for a program-record 4,597 yards with 2,226 yards during his junior year. Stephens-Howling was a two-time, first-team Associated Press Class AAA all-state selection and a two-time Tribune-Democrat Offensive Player of the Year before taking his game to the University of Pittsburgh.
That trek to Pitt wasn’t without a bit of skepticism, given Stephens-Howling’s size in comparison to the stature of most Division I running backs.
“We worked hard to get him into college because of his size,” Bob Arcurio, Stephens-Howling’s coach at Greater Johnstown, said. “There was a transition when (Walt) Harris left and LaRod was coming in. There was a lot of concern about whether Pitt would keep him. But when (Dave) Wannstedt saw his film, there was no question he wanted LaRod in his backfield.”
While under Dave Wannstedt at Pittsburgh, Stephens-Howling was the team’s leading rusher in 2005 and ’06 before taking a reduced role over his final two seasons, combining with LeSean McCoy to create one of the Big East’s most electrifying rushing attacks.
Stephens-Howling was drafted in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals. While the new gig was taking him far away from his hometown, Stephens-Howling’s heart was never too far away from Johnstown.
“I really appreciate everything that Johnstown has done,” Stephens-Howling said after getting drafted in 2009. “They never let me down. Even when I was on the back burner at Pitt, they always supported me.”
He earned the nickname ‘“The Hyphen” during four seasons in Arizona, where he rushed for 652 yards and had 534 receiving yards. Stephens-Howling was a key contributor on special teams for the Cardinals, with more than 4,000 kickoff return yards – including 1,548 yards with two touchdowns in 2010.
He signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers before the 2013 season, but a knee injury in the first game of the regular season cut short his homecoming campaign.
One of his stellar kickoff returns – a 102-yarder in 2010 against the Oakland Raiders – won a new home for a Cardinals fan as part of the “Take It To The House” promotion sponsored by a Phoenix home-building company.
He also scored on a 52-yard pass play in overtime to beat the Dallas Cowboys in 2011.
“It’s definitely up there,” Stephens-Howling said when asked about where the moment against the Cowboys ranked in his career highlights.
“To score the game-winning touchdown in overtime ... it was just such a great feeling. On that stage, against the Dallas Cowboys, yeah, that’s definitely one of my best moments.”
In 2016, Stephens-Howling was named a graduate assistant at Pitt, under coach Pat Narduzzi.