Howard Wilder covered the United States in search of a place to play FBS football and finally found a home in Cincinnati.
WEST HARRISON, Ind. - For the last three years, Howard Wilder always focused one eye on the football field and one eye on the stands. Whenever he took the field, wherever he took the field, a coach at the next level watched with thoughts of pulling him away.
Wilder rose as a top defensive back prospect in Washington, D.C., before being pulled across country to College of the Canyons Community College near Los Angeles. After a year there, he transferred across town to Pierce Community College. At every step, with every sensational play, a flock of coaches followed hoping to enlist his services.
He eventually landed in Cincinnati this July. After years of unpacking boxes only to know they would soon be filled again, Wilder can finally relax.
"I feel like I am at home," he said. "This is my last step now. Ain't no more moving around after this. It's a big relief. Now I don't have to think about all these schools coming, all for me, me visiting there, all that and making a decision. I can just stay here, work on my technique, work on my craft and get better with the fam. Get better with the Bearcats."
Plus, his arrival instantly made the Bearcats better. Tommy Tuberville searched for help at corner and found it in 5-foot-11, 180-pound Wilder. On a depth chart which changes in confluence with the sun rising, he's worked his way to the starting cornerback spot opposite Deven Drane.
His scouting report will open lauding his speed, but ask Wilder and he'll quickly summon his swagger. The trash-talking, head-bobbing kid from inside the I-495 belt in D.C., arrives with a belief in himself necessary to man the outside island.
"I'm a playmaker," he said. "I just like locking up receivers, talking trash and playing the ball, go to get the ball.
It's just playing with swag."
Tuberville soaked up Wilder's swag, despite only two weeks of practice.
"Howard has done good," Tuberville said. "He is going to be a hit and miss there because of experience but he's got speed. He can flip his hips well. He backpedals well. He competes. The thing about corner, the most important thing is knowing sooner or later you are going to get beat. And can you forget about it and go to the next play?"
The latest play for Wilder involved flipping his verbal commitment to USF and stiff-arming schools such as Wisconsin, Kentucky, Missouri, Rutgers and Arizona State.
Coaches can thank last year's JuCo standout Damon Julian for helping deliver him. The two crossed paths as Wilder arrived at Pierce while Julian took off for UC. When it came time to find a home, Wilder watched Julian slide into the end zone for a touchdown against Virginia Tech and saw the possibilities. As the two spoke, Julian sold the product the rest of the way.
More than playing time, location or atmosphere, Wilder sought stability. The years of wandering in search of a permanent home drained him.
"It weighed on me a lot," he said. "Every time I turned around it was a new team, new coach coming at me. I like where I took my choice and I like where I am right now."
Wilder still finds himself figuring out this new home. He's not a fan of Skyline and in search of a great steak joint. Pretty much everywhere he seeks comfort in new surroundings. Everywhere except between the lines. Those always feel comfortable for him. They represent the closest thing to home he's known.
"You got to be comfortable as a DB," Wilder said. "You are already in your backpedal all the time and you got a receiver running full speed. Just be comfortable and be patient."
Finally, he can do both.
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