W hen Ritchie Howard was growing up in McDuffie County, he always wanted to play football at Thomson High School.
He wasn't interested in being just a regular player or one that was comfortable sitting on the bench.
Not Ritchie Howard.
His personal goals were much higher. Mr. Howard's aim was to become as good as he could become. He wasn't happy just settling for being a so-so player. He wanted to excel in the sport by doing his best. Thus, he eventually became the best the old-fashioned way -- having worked hard for it.
"He was a real good one," recalled Mr. Howard's former football mentor, Thomson High School head coach and athletic director Luther Welsh. "Ritchie is a true success story, if there was ever any. He was a well-mannered, polite kid in school. He always dressed neatly and did real well in the classroom. You could tell right away that he was going to become someone special when he grew up."
Coach Welsh added, "I'm very proud of Ritchie."
Mr. Howard played fullback for the Bulldogs and graduated in 1987, went on to enroll in the University of Georgia to study computer science.
He also played on the school's basketball team.
He decided not to attempt to become a walk-on football player at UGA.
"I think he could have played at Georgia, because he had such a big heart," said Coach Welsh. "He was always pushing himself to be the best he could be."
Mr. Howard said coach Welsh played an important role in his life.
"Coach Welsh has been very, very influential in my life," said Mr. Howard. "He taught me the concept of teamwork and how important preparation is in anything we do in life. He has made a definite impact in my life."
Even though playing football was no longer in his future his love of the game has never wavered.
"I still love football today," said Mr. Howard, noting he likes watching college and pro football games on television.
He later changed his mind about the possibility of computer science becoming a career.
The reason: Simply put, he wanted to do something with his life to help people.
That's why law enforcement appealed to him.
He never thought about that field, however, until he got a summer job working as a jailer for former McDuffie County Sheriff William Swan.
It was total coincidence how Mr. Howard ended up with that summer job.
Mr. Howard happened to be pumping gasoline in his mother's car at what back then was known as Samuel's Truck Stop, located near the intersection of Cobbham Road and I-20 near Thomson.
"Sheriff Swan walked up to me and asked, 'Aren't you Margaret Thomas's son,'" remembered Mr. Howard.
The former sheriff, who was accompanied by his chief investigator, Logan Marshall, who would become sheriff, was referring to Mr. Howard's mother whom he had known as a friend for many years.
"Working that summer as a jailer, I guess you could say that law enforcement rubbed off on me," said Mr. Howard.
"That's where the law enforcement bug hit me. I wasn't but about 18 or 19 when I became a jailer."
He learned the ropes of being a jailer well.
Mr. Howard pointed out that he learned a lot about being a jailer and that "a great amount of respect is required" of a jailer towards inmates, because they are people, too.
"I heard all kinds of conversations from inmates, as you might imagine," said Mr. Howard. "Many of them had a mirage of problems. I just listened to their stories."
It wasn't long before he knew that law enforcement was his niche in life.
"I wanted to do something to help people," said Mr. Howard, explaining that he changed his major to criminal justice.
"I felt I could make a difference. I wanted to try, anyway. I wanted to give something back."
Today, Mr. Howard is a sergeant with the Georgia State Patrol, assigned the Post No. 25 in Grovetown, which formerly was in Thomson before a new post was built in neighboring Columbia County last year. He also serves as assistant post commander under Sgt. First Class Jason Johnson -- the post commander.
Aside from his many supervisory duties and responsibilities at the post in Grovetown, Sgt. Howard, as he now is referred, also serves as a hostage negotiator and is a member of the patrol's honor guard.
Those two duties alone mean that Sgt. Howard is subject to being called out at any time --anywhere he is needed in the Peach State.
"Anything could happen anywhere in the state and I might have to go," said Sgt. Howard. "That's just part of the job."
Sgt. Howard, now in his 13th year, joined the Georgia State Patrol in January 1997.
Prior to becoming a trooper and later a trooper first class, Sgt. Howard spent six years in the U.S. Air Force, stationed in California and later in Germany and Spain. He made that decision after being in class at UGA for two years.
He served in Iraqi Freedom between 2004 and 2005. While on active duty in the Air Force, Sgt. Howard was assigned to the Office of Special Investigations -- a law enforcement division - where he served as a first sergeant overseeing about 140 persons.
He later earned his degree in criminal justice and studied civilian law while on active duty in the Air Force in California and North Carolina.
Today, he serves in the Air Force Reserves.
After taking the state merit examination in his quest to become a state trooper, he already had been enrolled in trooper school for three weeks when he was called by officials with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, inquiring about his interest in joining that agency.
"I was already in trooper school and I liked it, so I just decided to stay with the state patrol," said Sgt. Howard. "I'm very happy where I am. I have no regrets."
Sgt. Howard has high career aspirations.
He'd like to become the state patrol's number one leader someday.
"I think I'm on the path of getting to that leadership position in the future," said Sgt. Howard.
If he does, it would make him the first black man in the history of the state to lead the Georgia State Patrol.
Sgt. Howard says he's a very blessed man.
"You have to put God first in your life," he said in a recent in depth interview with The McDuffie Mirror .
He credits his mother and grandfather, the late Moses "Cooney" Howard, who lived in Thomson, with bringing him up the right way in life.
"They taught me to treat people with respect," said Sgt. Howard. "That's something I've always tried to do and instill in others to do."
Despite working a lot, he enjoys prep basketball season, because he gets to referee a lot of area games as a certified official with the Georgia High School Association.
"That's something I enjoy doing a lot," said Sgt. Howard.
He is married. His wife's name is Kattie, who works as a child care lead teacher at Child's World in Thomson.
The couple has three children. They are members of Green Branch Baptist Church.