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    Sammy Howlin helped lift Fullerton College to state title after agonizing recovery from car crash
    • March 25, 2023

    The Fullerton College men’s basketball team recently captured its fifth state championship.

    Had it not been for the contributions of 6-foot-11 sophomore Sammy Howlin, particularly through the postseason run, Fullerton would have fallen short, Hornets coach Perry Webster said.

    Howlin, a 2019 La Habra High graduate, pulled down 10 rebounds, his third highest rebound total of the season, and had a blocked shot to help preserve Fullerton’s 83-73 victory over San Francisco in the CCCAA championship game March 12 at West Hills College in Lemoore.

    In the Hornets’ 75-63 victory over East Los Angeles in the semifinals two days earlier, Howlin, 21, had seven points, five blocked shots and a season-high 13 rebounds.

    He started all 33 games this season, leading the team in rebounds and blocked shots.

    “Without him, we have no chance of winning the state championship,” Webster said.

    Fullerton College coach Perry Webster, right, said 6-foot-11 sophomore Sammy Howlin, left, played a big role in the team winning the state community college championship on March 12. ‘Without him,’ Webster said, ‘we have no chance of winning the state championship.’ Webster pulled down 10 rebounds and made a key block late in the title game. (Photo by Lou Ponsi)

    Actually, the Hornets nearly were without Howlin this season.

    Howlin is not only fortunate to be playing basketball, but fortunate to be alive.

    A little after 11 p.m. on May 4, 2021, Howlin and his friend and former La Habra teammate, Ja’len Overstreet, had just finished playing some pickup ball.

    Days earlier, the Hornets had returned to the gym for spring practice ahead of the 2021-22 season.

    Howlin had transferred to Fullerton after playing his first college season at Jessup University in Rocklin.

    Overstreet was driving his 1999 Chevy Impala, with Howlin in the passenger seat.

    As they drove west through the intersection of Lambert and Harbor Boulevard, the Impala was T-boned on the passenger side by a 22-year old drunk driver who drove through a red light.

    The Impala spun around and careened into a large pickup truck.

    Howlin was knocked unconscious and had to be extricated from the car by paramedics.

    His lungs were punctured and he had to be intubated with a breathing tube.

    He sustained a fractured pelvis, numerous fractured ribs, a broken left thumb, broken collar bone and a fractured orbital bone in his face.

    Overstreet received severe burns on the lower part of his body.

    “I just remember being in the ambulance not being able to breathe because my lungs were both popped,” Howlin said. “Next thing I know I woke up three days later in the hospital.”

    Howlin spent several weeks in the hospital and was confined to a wheelchair and then could only get around with a walker.

    He underwent multiple surgeries to repair his lungs and the numerous broken bones.

    At that point, returning to the basketball court was an uncertainty.

    The pain was unbearable at times.

    “I had to suck up whatever emotion I had and get him to focus on good things,” said Michele Howlin, Sammy’s mother. “Have him focus on the family that loves him, on God. Just whatever I could do to help him to redirect.”

    Because of the injuries, Howlin was granted a medical redshirt, allowing him to remain eligible at Fullerton for the 2022-23 season.

    When he rejoined the Hornets in spring 2022, Howlin was wracked with trepidation.

    He knew playing again would involve playing through pain.

    “I just had a lot of nerves coming into this season,” he said. “The whole time I was wondering if I was going to be the same.”

    Fullerton’s Sammy Howlin, right, went through a long and painful recovery process after being severely injured in a car crash in 2021, but he emerged as a key player for the Hornets as they won the community college state title for the 2022-23 season. (Photo courtesy of Aaliyah Skipper)

    Webster said Howlin was holding his own during open gyms at Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine, but he would be hurting the next day.

    “I wasn’t going to get any better unless I felt the pain in my pelvis,” Howlin said. “I wasn’t going to run again unless I felt the pain. Everything was going to require sacrifice. I was just thinking suffering equals success and it helped me this season.”

    Howlin went on to start every game for the Hornets and didn’t miss a single practice.

    “I know his body didn’t feel 100 percent every day, but he battled through it,” Webster said. “Sammy really loves basketball and what the accident did was take basketball away from him and he came back to realize that that it is what he loves to do, that is what he wants to do.”

    Howlin is currently considering offers to play basketball at a four-year university.

    He’s not sure if he’ll play ball beyond college, but said if nothing else, basketball will pay for his education.

    Howlin is also willing to share his story publicly, talking about the dangers of drunk driving and the perseverance it took to recover.Faith played a major role as well, Michele Howlin said.

    “Everything that has happened with Sam is just what God has done for him,” she said. “We were there for Sam but he is just a miracle.”

    ​ Orange County Register