With seven returning letterwinners that earned All-American accolades last season, the Penn State men’s gymnastics team entered the season as a perennial national championship contender.
After the first competition against the Army Black Knights last Saturday, the additional contributions from a freshman may have now made the Nittany Lions title favorites.
Newcomer Trevor Howard won individual awards in the still rings (15.700) and the vault (15.200), while also finishing in a close third on the parallel bars (15.200). For his performance, Howard was awarded Big Ten Freshman of the Week.
“I’m truly blessed to get that opportunity. The first time I was competing, I was definitely not expecting it,” Howard said.
While it was his first time donning the blue and white for Penn State, the atmosphere and pressure did not faze the Columbus, Ohio, native.
“When I first got out on the floor I put my headphones on and just got pumped up. Then I settled down and got in the zone so I didn’t blow my opportunity,” Howard said. “[My teammates] got me excited and I could hear them in the background when I was doing my routine.”
Howard is no stranger to high-level gymnastics, having performed at the 2012 Junior Olympic National Championships, where he won the floor, vault, and parallel bars.
“[Howard] is battle tested and knows what it’s like to be up against stiff competition,” coach Randy Jepson said of his experience at last year’s championships. “We anticipate good things from him.”
Despite his success at last Saturday’s competition against Army, Howard still has more to contribute to the No. 4 Lions. Due to a lingering knee injury from last year, he was unable to compete in the floor exercise, one of his best events.
The Lions will travel to Las Vegas, Nev., for the Winter Cup on Feb. 7 and 9, where the United States national team committee watches dozens of teams and picks its members partly based on performances there. Howard hopes to be back to full strength by then.
This weekend will be a new challenge for the freshman, as the Lions will travel to Annapolis, Md. for the Navy Open. It will be the first time Howard competes on an away floor. He said that he will have to adjust to the unfamiliar equipment and atmosphere that he has become accustomed to at Rec Hall.
Howard said he feels a piece of home at Penn State, as junior Preston Gall and senior Matt Chelberg trained with him at the Hocking Valley Gymnastics Center in Lancaster, Ohio.
“It’s nice coming to [Penn State] having two old teammates. Preston is like my brother,” Howard said.
While the season has just begun, the freshman knows what he hopes to accomplish this season.
“I want to become an All-American on at least three events and want the team to win the Big Ten and NCAAs.” The NCAA Championships will be held at Penn State on April 19-21.
Howard is not alone in the lofty expectations for his freshman campaign.
“He’s made the transition [from high school to college] well and he’s ready to have a great season,” Jepson said.