Aaron Howard: Zen quarterback.

The redshirt sophomore is always looking for ways to improve his game, so when he met an MMA fighter in a class at Colorado Mesa, he struck up a conversation that led to him checking out Golden Fights Gym.

"Now that is a special thing," he said. "I met this dude named Aleksey (Yudin) ... . He showed me this 'warriors breath.' It's supposed to get you connected to your intuition, more to God, like a meditation. That fully changed everything."

Through some offseason workouts, Howard learned to push himself to the limit, vital to mixed martial arts, but also learned about the mental aspect of the sport, which he's transferred to the football field.

That's where warrior breathing comes in.

"It's a breathing sequence you do laying down with your hands up like the grace (position) and you're breathing in and out deeply," Howard said, closing his eyes and raising his arms.

"Then there's another one, Wim Hof breathing. It makes you feel these vibrations through your body and it's having oxygen in your cells and it's healing your body, it's natural healing.

"It focuses on your breathing so you're not worried, you're not thinking about anything. It's synergy and it grounds you. It's amazing."

Those breathing exercises have helped Howard, who came out of Arizona's prep quarterback factory Chandler High School, slow the game down to the point that nothing overwhelms him.

Not a blitzing linebacker or a missed block that has him scrambling out of the pocket.

Not learning on Thursday of last week that he would be making his first college start that Saturday night. Hayden Bollinger was penciled in to start, but was ill much of the week, so Howard got the call.

"I could have told him before we went on the field," CMU coach Russ Martin said. "Aaron is a very level-headed young man and outstanding person as well as a quarterback."

Howard was ready.

"As long as you stay ready, you never have to get ready, as my dad says," Howard said. "Focus on the process."

An A student, Howard reads anything that can help him improve the mental aspect of his game.

"I've been reading the Bible, and I love doing that. I'm almost done reading the full thing," he said. "That's an experience in itself, but I also like to read successful self-help books, things on mind discipline.

"I have some family friends who have played and they tell me that's the biggest thing to get to the Hall of Fame, that's the difference right there. It's about your work ethic, but your work ethic and your mind. Your mind has to be above everyone else. Everyone can run, everyone is strong, but your mind is going to take you somewhere."

He studies elite athletes to learn what sets them apart.

"They have a certain swagger," Howard said. "The way they walk on the field, the way they are on the sideline, they're more internal than external, more focused on their mind, let me stay in the game. OK, this will make me better."

He read "The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Performance," which has taught him how to be — and stay — productive on and off the field.

"It's about how humans get into the natural state of 'flow,' how they can't make the wrong decision," Howard said. "Like Michael Jordan couldn't miss a shot, Tiger Woods was perfect, surfers surf the biggest waves ever seen. It's getting into intuition but learning how putting yourself into extreme circumstances will switch you into flow.

"The best way I can explain it is when you read a book, some days you'll be drifting off, thinking about other things. The flow is when you're reading and can just go and focus and wow, I read 50 pages within 10 minutes."

The goal is to be in flow on the football field.

After last week's overtime loss to Eastern New Mexico, Howard said he wasn't nervous about his first start. His faith helped him stay calm, and he knew he was prepared. Now it's taking what he learned and improving for Saturday night's game against Western Colorado.

"I think I realized how good I can be," he said after watching the film breakdown this week. "I know there were some throws I overthrew and some reads that I could have seen better. I can see the potential, I guess you can say, and know that the margin for error is big, but if I can make the margin for error small ... if I can make the least mistakes possible, that's what's best for the team."

Working with Martin and former CMU quarterback Sean Rubalcaba, who Howard called "our little guru," all three QBs are ready at a moment's notice.

Howard completed 21 of 33 passes for 122 yards and three touchdowns against Eastern New Mexico, earning the start again this week.

He'll stay prepared as always, scanning bookshelves for the next title that will give him a mental edge. And he'll keep breathing like a warrior.

"(Yudin) introduced me to it and my game just took off," he said. "The connection was crazy."

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