STAMFORD, Conn. – Trinity Catholic High’s Shaquan Howsie remembers introducing himself to coach Pete Stokes back in the eighth grade. Four years later, they cemented a bond that future Crusaders can hope to emulate.
Howsie was named The Daily Voice’s Athlete of the Month for Stamford after leading the Crusaders to an 8-3 record and their first state playoff appearance since 1993.
After injuring his knee in the second game of the season last fall, Howsie returned to rush for 1,116 yards and 16 touchdowns. Stokes, who stepped down on Tuesday, said that when Howsie introduced himself in middle school, he said “meet your new fullback.” He didn’t disappoint.
“I got called down to the office, and I was thinking to myself, ‘What did I do?’’’ Howsie said. “Did I do something wrong? There was a big smile on his face, and I knew right then that Trinity was the place for me. I had complete trust in him.”
The journey was rocky at times for Stokes and Howsie. The coach suffered a heart attack in 2010 and the death of his mother in 2011. Howsie’s knee injury hurt Trinity last fall, when the Crusaders went 3-7 for the second straight season. His grandmother died during this past season. But through it all, Howsie and Stokes supported each other.
“Me and Coach Stokes both went through a lot,’’ Howsie said. “We’ve had a lot of emotional times. When my grandmother passed away, the whole team came to the wake. We stuck together as a team, through good times and bad.”
The highlight of Trinity’s season was a 31-28 win over New Canaan on Sept. 22. Howsie rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns as the Crusaders beat the Rams for the first time in 28 years. Stokes played on the last Crusader team to beat New Canaan. It was redemptive for Howsie, who injured his knee during the New Canaan game last year.
“It was hard to sit back and watch when I was injured,’’ Howsie said. “I was watching my family go out there without me. The two things I couldn’t stop thinking about was getting back to playing football and getting back to the team.”
The Crusaders rode the win over the Rams to a 7-0 start until losing to St. Joseph. They also lost to Darien on a last-second play but beat Wilton on Thanksgiving to reach the state playoffs. The Crusaders’ season ended with a 49-28 loss to North Branford, which broke the game open with two late scores.
“It was a little sad to have it end,’’ Howsie said. “We set really high goals, and we got close to achieving all of them. It was really emotional to have it end. But we’re proud of what we accomplished. We hadn’t had a winning season in three years. I’m happy we brought that winning aspect back to Trinity.”