Tiffany Howard has been called a lot of things during her softball career: prodigy, speedster, defensive wizard, All-American. Now that her playing days are over, she is focused on her next title: doctor.
The Bryan County alum plans to graduate in December from Auburn University with a degree in integrative biology and then apply to veterinary school.
“I’ve always loved animals, ever since I can remember,” she said during a recent phone interview between sessions of Auburn’s summer softball camp.
Even though the Tigers lost to Oklahoma in the Women’s College World Series earlier this month, Howard said she loved every minute of it.
“We had one heck of a season, there’s no reason to be upset,” she said. “We never expected to be there, so it was awesome just to make it.”
Especially not four years ago, when Auburn went 7-17 in the SEC. That improved slightly, to 11-13 in Howard’s sophomore season, the first under new coach Clint Myers.
“The first couple of practices, just the amount of knowledge he had, we knew he was legitimate,” she said. “We realized ‘so this is how ASU did it.’”
Myers took Arizona State to the WCWS seven times in eight years, winning the national title twice.
“Tiffany is a tremendous softball player and an amazing young lady,” Myers said in an email to the Bryan County News. “She is an outstanding role model and has become a good leader.”
Last season, the Tigers won the SEC tournament and were one win away from playing in the WCWS finals. Their mantra this season was “three more days,” reflecting the two-out-of-three format for the finals.
“We got our three days,” Howard laughed. “Winning it all would have been nice, but we did everything we could. It was an exciting end to my career.”
Most of that excitement came in game two against Oklahoma. After losing the first game to the Sooners 3-2, Auburn found itself trailing 7-0 after two innings in the second game.
“That was frustrating because we had a couple infield errors and there was nothing we could do,” the leftfielder said. “We (she and the other two outfielders) told each other that nothing was hitting the ground.”
That went for balls hit in — or out — of the park, apparently. With the game tied at 7-7 in the sixth inning, Howard leaped at the wall and stole a two-run homer. She later collected her fourth hit of the game and was on base when teammate Emily Carosone hit a walk-off grand slam to give Auburn an 11-7 win.
Howard said she had dreamed of making a catch like that “all my life” and the outfielders practice it. That night, her catch and Carosone’s homer were No. 2 and No. 1, respectively, on ESPN’s top 10 plays of the day.
The Internet exploded, with pictures and video of the catch being tweeted and retweeted thousands of times. Then things got creative. One photo that made the rounds superimposed Howard’s catch against a picture of the Berlin Wall. Another was a riff on New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s famous one-handed reception against the Dallas Cowboys in 2014.
“Those were hysterical,” Howard said. “Everyone kept sending them to me.”
The catch has even been nominated for an ESPY for “best play of the year” by ESPN. You can vote at: http://espn.go.com/espys/2016/?voting=bestplay. Myers said she is “one of the best defensive outfielders” he has ever coached.
Although her playing days are over, Howard said coaching could be in her future, but not until after vet school.
“That will be way too busy to do anything like be a graduate assistant coach,” she said. “But maybe high school coaching one day.”
If Howard goes that route, softball won’t be the only sport she could coach at the high school level. She excelled in every athletic endeavor she attempted at BCHS, earning regional titles in cross country, track and basketball to go along with being a two-time Class A player of the year in softball. She was the first BCHS athlete to sign with an SEC school and her No. 1 softball jersey was even retired.
“I sent her a text after it was all over and thanked her for teaching me the game,” Redskins softball coach Al Butler said. “I came into it with a baseball mentality, but it is two completely different games and she understood softball better than anyone I’ve ever met. She set the standard around here.”
Butler has seen plenty of his players go on to play in college, including Howard’s sister, Samantha, and has said that many players by the time they get to high school are well versed in the fundamentals of the game due to dedicated parents and coaches.
Howard said north Bryan County has a “passion” for the game.
“They always told us in school that if you work hard you’ll be successful,” she said.
Myers echoed that sentiment.
“I know that Tiffany will be successful at whatever she does because she believes that greatness is a way of life,” he said. “Her next dream is to become a vet and with her work ethic and determination I know she will be one of the best vets in the future.”