U-17 WNT Midfielder Jaelin Howell: The USA’s Strong Safety

U.S. U-17 midfielder Jaelin Howell may have inherited an important part of her game from her dad, but her overall talent has helped her become one of the top young players in the United States.

On January 26, 2003, three-year-old Jaelin Howell was taken by her mom onto the field at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Her dad, John, a safety for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had just helped his team defeat the Oakland Raiders 48-21 to win Super Bowl XXXVII.

She was too young to remember that day, but it’s clear from watching Howell play center midfield for the U.S Under-17 Women’s National Team that she inherited some of those hard-hitting genes from her dad.

Jaelin Howell was three years old when her father, John, won Super Bowl XXXVII with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Solidly-built and 5-foot-8 -- making her the USA’s tallest field player -- Howell has been one of the USA’s most consistent performers during this cycle in which she has attended every training camp. She was named to the Best XI at the CONCACAF U-17 Women’s Championship, playing in four games and getting one assist, but her impact is felt in many ways that don’t register on the score sheet. More like on the Richter scale.

Howell has shown tremendous talent in many facets of the game, helping set the USA’s attacking rhythm while locking down the middle of the field on defense, and she is especially adept in one thing her dad was also good at: separating a player from the ball.

“There’s probably some truth to that,” Howell said of following in her dad’s footsteps, albeit it in a different kind of football. “It’s part of my position to tackle and try to own the midfield. I’ve never been afraid to get stuck in, even when I was little. I have two younger brothers [Jack, who is 14 and Jake, who is 11] and we’ve always been super competitive and rough-housed all the time, so I’ve gotten used to being knocked around and knocking them around.”

Although her dad did not grow up with the game of soccer, she says he’s been particularly helpful in molding her competitive mentality.

“He’s always been an inspiration to me although he really didn’t know anything about soccer when I started playing,” she said. “He’s grown to love the game and watches it all time. He watches all the Women’s National Team games so we can talk more soccer now. He came from a really small town in Nebraska and he had to work really hard to get to the NFL, so he has a lot of knowledge and wisdom about work ethic and overcoming adversity. Many things are the same mentality-wise with all sports so he was able coach me up on that aspect of the game pretty easy.”

Despite playing different types of football, Jaelin and her father share a unique bond between athletes; one that relates to persevering against adversity and chasing your dream

This October, Howell and her teammates will embark on their own Super Bowl journey, hoping to earn a place in the world’s biggest game for U-17 women’s soccer players, and she knows the road will not be easy.

“It’s awesome playing for your country and it means a lot,” she said. “Not many people get this opportunity so all of us are really embracing it. We know that all the teams in this tournament will be playing at a high level and so it will be difficult against every team we play.”

Howell feels that she and her teammates are in a good place and up for the challenges after working for two years to get used to the demands of the international game.

“Club soccer can get pretty wild as far as the physical part of the game, but the international game is a whole different type of physicality,” she said. “Internationally, the players are so fast and strong and they know how to use their bodies to shield you off and get you off balance. It’s just crazy how much faster the game is and how the players use their physicality in a smarter way.”

The international soccer learning curve has included many lessons, including navigating social media. “Someone called me Wreck-It-Ralph on Twitter,” Howell said, in a tone that was half amused, half exasperated. “I really hope it’s for my style of play and not how I look.”

If it was for her ball-winning ability, Howell will embrace that. She’s also a big American football fan, and her favorite team is – no surprise -- the Buccaneers. She will close a loop of sorts when she returns to Florida to play for Florida State in the fall of 2018. There, she will surely see some high-level football, when the Seminoles take the field at Doak Campbell Stadium, and fútbol, under head coach Mark Krikorian.

Howell is talented on both offense and defense, helping win balls in the midfield while also playing a role in setting the USA's attacking rhythm

“I still play football with my brothers all the time,” said Howell. “I think when I was younger I wanted to play tackle football, but that didn’t last long. If I did, I think I’d want to be a wide receiver or a running back because you get to catch passes and carry the ball all the time.”

And what would her dad think about her playing on the offensive side?

“He approves,” she said. “He told me I’d be a good receiver!”

High praise from someone who played on a Super Bowl team with Keenan McCardell, Keyshawn Johnson and Joe Jurevicius.

“I never really got to see my dad play football in the NFL because he retired when I was six,” said Howell. “But it’s really cool that he’s getting to see me live my athletic dreams. Hopefully, there are some championships in my future as well.”