Will Howard enrolled at Kansas State in the spring with the idea of getting a jump on the transition from high school to college football.
Instead, the coronavirus came along and stomped all over those plans.
But despite missing spring practice — the main reason he graduated high school mid-year — Howard's two months in Manhattan served him well.
Enough so that he felt more than ready to step in at quarterback last Saturday against Texas Tech when senior starter Skylar Thompson went down with an injury. And enough so that he kept it together for two fourth-quarter scoring drives that gave the Wildcats a 31-21 come-from-behind victory at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
"I feel very comfortable with our system," Howard said.
Part of that, K-State coach Chris Klieman said, could be attributed to Howard's time at K-State before returning home to Downingtown, Pa., during the spring lockdown.
"Without question he benefited from being here early, as far as getting with coach (Chris) Dawson and the strength staff, getting with (quarterback coach) Collin Klein and getting with (quarterbacks) Nick Ast and Skylar Thompson and learning the offense," Klieman said. "So that when he did go home during our COVID break, he had his iPad and he had all the notes.
"He had everything he needed so that he could work on it himself. He could go on to the Zoom meetings that he had with coach Klein. So, without question, it helped him a bunch to being an early enrollee."
Those two months also told Howard that K-State was where he belonged, a feeling that was reinforced over the summer and during preseason camp.
"The seniors have done a great job of taking us in, and from day one I've felt part of this team, and they've done that will all the freshmen," Howard said. "I haven't heard anything bad about any freshman.
"Everybody just loves it, and the family atmosphere and kind of bringing guys in and just loving each other, and that's how we do it here."
It doesn't hurt that the rookie class already has made an impact three games into the season after the Wildcats rebounded from a season-opening loss to Arkansas State to go 2-0 in the Big 12. Running back Deuce Vaughn in particular has been a dynamic playmaker as a true freshman.
As for Howard, he handled a difficult situation with poise against Texas Tech. First he finished off a 97-yard scoring drive in the second quarter, then not flinching when the Wildcats found themselves down 21-17 in the fourth with 11 minutes left.
Though Klieman said again Tuesday that he hopes to have Thompson back for Saturday's 3 p.m. game at TCU, Howard now has proven himself to his teammates.
"Point blank, Will's a baller," said tight end Briley Moore, a graduate transfer whose 66-yard reception from Howard set up the go-ahead touchdown against Tech. "He showed us that in fall camp. He showed us that in the reps that he’s gotten in the past three weeks.
"I think on his first play in the first game he completed a pass, and then to go into that (Tech) game with some pressure and the game on the line, and to hold his composure the way he did and command the offense the way he did, we’re not going to blink if that’s what the situation is."
After the Wildcats took the lead and the defense came up with two straight stops, Howard led one more scoring drive that clinched it, checking at the line of scrimmage to find Vaughn matched up with a linebacker in what resulted in a 70-yard pass play.
"The whole offense was so supportive," Howard said. "(Senior center) Noah Johnson is one guy that sticks out to me. He was talking to me all the time, keeping me in the game, pumping me up (and) doing whatever he could.
"Skylar came out there after he got dinged up, which was awesome. It was great to have him out there talking to me. I couldn't have done it without all those guys."
Johnson, a team captain but first-year starter, was impressed by Howard's demeanor.
"Will, man, that guy was poised, he was confident (and) he did not seem phased by the moment at all," Johnson said. "He was completely ready for it.
"Coach Collin Klein did a great job of talking to him and Skylar did a great job of talking to him and keeping him chill. I think the coolest thing about Will is that he was smiling and joking around a little bit in the huddle and having fun."
Should Thompson not be ready Saturday — he did not practice Monday — the Wildcats now feel better turning the keys over to Howard, at least for the short term.
"We don't really know, but I can tell you from a team camaraderie standpoint, we've got his back and we know that he has our back," Moore said. "We're comfortable with whatever happens."