Written by By Jeff Morris
Photo by Cole Lawrence
There have been few bright spots in a difficult year for the Ottawa REDBLACKS.
One of those bright spots has been the play of safety Justin Howell. The former Carleton Raven is in his second season in the CFL and is becoming a savvy veteran. He is also one of the most well-liked players among young fans who are part of the football community.
“Almost every game there will be some of the kids from the Junior Ravens program waving or yelling before the game or saying hi after the game,” Howell said. “I love being part of that program, working with the kids and seeing them progress from year to year. I really enjoy coaching them. It’s a great way to give back to the game and to the program at Carleton.”
The cliché in football is that the season is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Howell said the biggest adjustment he had to make was going from an eight-game OUA regular season at Carleton to an 18-game regular season with the REDBLACKS.
“It’s definitely the biggest adjustment,” Howell said. “In my first year, the guys were telling me that at the midway point – game nine or game 10 – you’re going to feel it. To get through a season you just have to take care of yourself. You have to eat right and make sure you are sleeping well. It’s the little things that will get you through.”
Howell’s journey to the CFL began in his hometown of Bradford, ON, near Lake Simcoe. He had grown up as a soccer player and played a number of sports. In high school, he was introduced to football.
“The coach kind of came in and yanked me out of volleyball tryouts and told me I was playing football,” he said. “I played in high school and then played minor football and OVFL.”
Howell joined the Ravens in 2014, the second year of the program after it was revived.
“I hadn’t really thought of Carleton or Ottawa,” Howell said. “But when I was recruited, I liked the culture of the team, and I loved how the alumni supported the program. When I got to Carleton, I fell in love with the campus and the culture of the program.”
Howell said that even though the program was entering its second year, he was influenced by players like Leon Cenerini, Jesse Mills, Nate Behar and Kyle Van Wynsberghe.
“The culture was already here thanks to those guys,” Howell said. “I saw their work ethic and their passion, and how they wanted to leave their mark and build something great. I saw a guy like Nate who worked so hard at his craft and wanted to be great. I wanted to work with that group of guys and build something.”
When of Howell’s closest friends at Carleton is now his teammate. Wide receiver Nate Behar signed with the REDBLACKS as a free agent before this season. Howell and Behar had some legendary one-on-one battles in practice at Carleton as they were both driven to make each other better.
“We wanted to be the best,” Howell said. “I would go up against Nate or K.Y. (Kyle Van Wynsberghe) in practice every day and those were two of the best receivers in Canada. We competed to make each other better, and off the field we were great friends as well.”
Howell still likes to go up against the best receivers in the game. Against the Toronto Argonauts earlier in September, Howell played most of the game at safety in a game when veteran star S. J. Green had 10 receptions for 130 yards. Howell tied his career high with five defensive tackles.
“Any time you play against a guy like S. J. Green, you come out of it a better football player,” Howell said. “It was a great opportunity to learn.”
While Howell is lining up against veteran CFL stars every week, there was one game that stands out as a special experience.
“When Montreal came here last year, I got to make my first start, and Johnny Manziel was their starting quarterback,” Howell said. “I was a big fan of his and I watched him play a lot when he was at Texas A&M. And then, there I was on the field lined up as the safety, looking him in the eyes and trying to get into his head. That was something I will never forget.”
Even though Howell has graduated from the Ravens program, he is still very visible. He trains at the Carleton High Performance Centre and is always available to help out with the Ravens as they train and prepare for the season. He trains with former teammates, and also with players who joined the program after he left.
But for Howell, the Ravens are one big family, whether they are future Ravens, current Ravens or Old Crows.
“That’s what makes this program so special,” he said. “It’s why I like giving back, and it’s why I will be back coaching with the Junior Ravens in the offseason. I love it.”
-By Jeff Morris
To hear the full interview with Justin Howell, listen to the Sept. 11 edition of the Carleton Ravens Football Podcast at