Summer 2024

5 College QBs to Watch in 2021: North Carolina's Sam Howell says best decision was to follow Christ

Leading up to the 2021 football season, Sports Spectrum will highlight
five Christ-following college quarterbacks to watch in 2021.

After only two seasons at North Carolina, quarterback Sam Howell has already etched his name in Tar Heel and Atlantic Coast Conference record books.

>> Subscribe to Sports Spectrum Magazine for more stories where sports and faith connect <<

The junior is fifth in program history in total passing yards (7,227), and tied for first in total passing touchdowns (68). Last season, he recorded perhaps the single-best passing game by a quarterback in North Carolina history with six touchdowns and 550 yards in a 59-53 comeback win over Wake Forest.

If Howell stays healthy, he will almost certainly hold all of the significant UNC passing records by the end of 2021.

The emergence of Howell, along with the return of legendary head coach Mack Brown, during the 2019 campaign almost immediately reversed the program’s fortunes and elevated it to national prominence. The Tar Heels won a total of five games in the two years before Howell’s arrival, but in 2019 he led them to seven wins and back to a bowl game, where they blew out Temple, 55-13, in the Military Bowl.

Last season, Carolina was a regular in the top 25, went 8-4 and earned a berth in the Orange Bowl. Howell’s three touchdown passes in the 41-27 loss to Texas A&M gave him 68 for his career, two more than April’s No. 1 overall NFL draft pick, Trevor Lawrence, had after his sophomore season.

When the 2021 season kicks off in September, the Tar Heels will be ranked No. 9 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. The defense is expected to be much improved with a bevy of returning starters and an influx of talented freshmen. The offense lost many talented skill-position players, but an experienced offensive line and Howell’s steadying presence leaves many experts optimistic about the 2021 Tar Heels.

They will begin their quest for an ACC title on Friday, Sept. 3, with a conference road game against Virginia Tech at 6 p.m. ET.

Since the end of last season, Howell has been in the conversation as a potential Heisman Trophy finalist in 2021. According to, he currently has the sixth-best odds to win it.

Howell’s name is also a fixture in the top 10 of 2022 NFL mock drafts, as 2022 will be the first year he’s eligible to be drafted. NFL scouts are consistent attendees at practices in Chapel Hill and rave about the strong, accurate arm, precise mechanics and natural leadership qualities of the 6-foot-1, 220-pound quarterback.

Yet even with all of the potential media distractions surrounding him this fall, Howell is staying grounded in his faith in Christ. Last month, Howell got baptized by Jack Hibbs, the senior pastor at Calvary Chapel Church in Chino Hills, California.

“Choosing to follow Christ has been the best decision I’ve ever made in my life,” Howell wrote on Instagram. “God has done so many amazing things in my life and has blessed me in ways I could never imagine.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Sam Howell (@sam7howell)

Howell, who thanks God and prays for safety before every game, often uses social media to share about his faith. He references his favorite Bible verse, Isaiah 41:10, in his Twitter bio and occasionally captions his posts with others.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Sam Howell (@sam7howell)


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Sam Howell (@sam7howell)

When the NCAA suspended rules prohibiting athletes from making money off of their name, image and likeness earlier this summer, Howell made sure that others besides himself would benefit. He announced that his first official partnership would be with TABLE, a local nonprofit that provides hunger relief and nutrition education services to children in and around Chapel Hill. He also promised to volunteer and help to raise awareness about the issue of childhood hunger in America today.

On and off the field, Howell aims to make impact.

North Carolina QB Sam Howell gets baptized: ‘Best decision I’ve ever made’
Bobby Bowden passes away ‘taking as many people as he can to Heaven with him’
SS PODCAST: Iowa State QB Brock Purdy on playing for Christ, living apart from the world
Minnesota QB Tanner Morgan’s dad passes away, enters ‘where his true citizenship is’
Ole Miss football/baseball star John Rhys Plumlee relying on faith amid uncertain QB role