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 Kevin Hardy, Simeon Rice and John Holecek. As a senior in 1994, he became the first Illini player to win 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 was the first player in school history to register at least 100 tackles in each of his four seasons and is the all-time leading tackler in Fighting Illini history, with 595.