Thomas Howard has spent a number of seasons watching South Carolina State from the opposing sidelines.

Last season, he worked as an assistant with Norfolk State University. Prior to that he spent seven seasons at North Carolina A&T where he worked with the defensive backs before being promoted to defensive coordinator.

“I’ve always known South Carolina State to be a defensive team, that’s Coach (Buddy) Pough’s calling card,” Howard said. “Whenever we played against them you knew they would be big, fast and physical.”

Howard said he wants to build on that foundation as he takes over as the new defensive coordinator at South Carolina State. Howard accepted the job earlier this month after Jonathan Saxon left to become an assistant at Wofford.

Saxon’s departure came right after the Bulldogs finished spring practices. With the late start, Howard has met with individual players, but is looking forward to the opportunity once SC State begins its summer workouts.

“The summer will be key for us,” Howard said. “It’s a short time period, so we must utilize a majority of our meeting time getting things installed and making sure everyone knows what job they do. The biggest thing is re-implementing the fundamentals.”

Time becomes an even bigger factor as South Carolina State is scheduled to take part in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge against Jackson State Aug. 26 in Atlanta. The Week Zero game puts even more pressure on Howard and his staff to be prepared to face the Tigers.

“I’m counting on a lot of input from the defensive staff,” Howard said. “I’m excited to be working with such an experienced staff.”

South Carolina State lost three of its top four tacklers from last season, but have a core group of linebackers Aaron Smith and Zan Dunham along with defensive linemen Patrick Godbolt and Jeblonski Green Jr.

“We’re going to evaluate a lot of film, which will allow the defense to read and react,” Howard said of his defensive philosophy. “The biggest thing though is for them to have fun. I’m excited to be here and ready to get to work.”