Growing pains are to be expected for most incoming collegiate athletes, especially in a conference as historically impressive as the Big Ten. Yet, rookie gymnast Trevor Howard has done anything but struggle so far this season.
With his seventh Big Ten Freshman of the Week accolade for this past Saturday’s performance against then-No. 2 Michigan, Howard broke the conference record for the award in a single-season. The top individual score (and career high) in the vault highlighted his night, as he extended his streak of NCAA competitions with an event win to six.
While the level of competition has only gotten better as the season progresses, with No. 1 Penn State facing three of the current top six teams in the country since the beginning of February, Howard said winning the award after the first meet stands out to him.
“Going out there [against Army] and having all the lights on you with the pressure of hitting for your team [was the main thing]. [But] I got in the rhythm and felt right at home,” Howard said.
While he’s started a nice collection of individual awards, the Columbus, Ohio, native is quick to acknowledge other members of the squad for guidance and advice.
“Everyone on the team has always been behind me, supporting me,” Howard said. “[The team] has enjoyed [the awards] and we’ve all been playing off each other. When one guy does well, everyone else starts to do well.”
Two team members in particular who Howard was quick to praise for their instruction are senior Felix Aronovich and junior Néstor Rodríguez. He said they both have helped him relax during competitions and getting into the right mindset, especially with Aronovich’s extensive competition experience, notably in last summer’s London Olympics.
“I’m trying to get through to him [that he] just needs to relax and that’s where your best gymnastics come from,” said Aronovich, who competed for Israel in the Summer Games.
The scary thing for the rest of the gymnasts across the country is that Howard is not yet at full strength, according to coach Randy Jepson. The 2012 junior national champion in the floor exercise has only been able to compete in the event twice to date this season while mainly shining in the vault, still rings and high bar.
Earlier in the year, Howard sustained a concussion, followed by some tendinitis that has kept him sidelined from the floor exercise in competitions.
“Ironically, Trevor has had a great season but hasn’t done the things he’s capable of,” Jepson said. “He is our best floor man. We haven’t been able to see that yet.”
Jepson said he hopes to have Howard compete in the floor event this Saturday when the Nittany Lions travel to take on Minnesota. The coach, who is in his 21st season as Penn State’s head coach, noted that the gymnast did a good routine on the floor in practice on Tuesday and his body reacted well.
But Jepson understands Howard will be critical for the Lions’ success as they hope to make a run to the national championship in late April.
“He’s battled hardened. He knows how to put the routines in when the time comes. That’s just a great benefit for us,” Jepson said.