While attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Howard played for the Illinois Fighting Illini football team from 1991 to 1994. He was a member of Illinois' talented linebacker corps that included fellow standouts John Holecek, Kevin Hardy and Simeon Rice. As a senior in 1994, he won the Dick Butkus Award and Jack Lambert Award, both presented annually to the best linebacker in college football. Howard earned first-team All-American honors in 1993, and was recognized as a consensus first-team All-American in 1994. He is the all-time leading tackler in Fighting Illini history, with 595.