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October 18, 2009

'They don't come any better than Jasper'

STORRS, Conn. - Jasper Howard believed he left his troubles behind when he arrived at UConn in the summer of 2007.

He was, after all, hundreds of miles north of his Miami home and set to become a college football player - a path that could lead him to riches as a professional and save his mother, Joangila, and sisters Keyondra and Jasmine from the struggles they still faced.

But it was in this little college town, not the bustling metropolis, that the end would come too soon for Howard.

The UConn cornerback, an expectant father, was killed early Sunday morning, the victim of a stabbing that took place outside the Student Union on campus.

The perpetrator remained at large Sunday night.

"It's a very, very sad day for everybody that's involved with this football program and for everyone that knew Jazz," head coach Randy Edsall said. "They don't come any better than Jasper."

Howard, 20, was attending a university-sponsored dance when, shortly before 12:30 a.m., those in the building were evacuated when a fire alarm was pulled. According to Ronald Blicher of the UConn police, an officer on patrol was approached at approximately 12:33 a.m. and informed of a stabbing.

Two individuals - Howard and another UConn athlete - were attacked, with both being transported via ambulance to Windham Community Memorial Hospital.

The other male, as yet unidentified by police due to the ongoing nature of the investigation, was treated and released, while Howard was transported via LifeStar helicopter to the St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford.

Edsall received a phone call at approximately 1 a.m. from director of football operations Tim Pendergast and met several other players and students at St. Francis. At some point between 4 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., Edsall said, he was called into the operating room to officially identify Howard, who died as a result of his injuries.

The head coach informed Howard's mother, then addressed those assembled at the hospital before making plans for a team meeting Sunday at 6 a.m.

"I came here thinking that the toughest part was over and it was about being there for each other and moving on, but obviously not," said punter Desi Cullen. "That just goes to show you the bond you create and that Jazz created and the impact he made."

Howard had arguably one of the best games of his career Sunday in UConn's 38-25 victory over Louisville. He had a career-high 11 tackles and forced and recovered a fumble in the third quarter, earning the team's defensive game ball for his efforts.

"It's amazing to look back at a rollercoaster of emotions, from a jubilant locker room after a big win yesterday, which Jasper was such a big part of that celebration, to 12 hours later when we're in the hospital to learn this news," said UConn athletic director Jeff Hathaway.

Blicher could not disclose the number, size and location of wounds Howard suffered, nor could he definitively link the fire evacuation to the stabbings. Approximately 300 people were at the event, he said, and a number had been interviewed as potential witnesses, with no existing belief that the perpetrator is a danger to the rest of the community.

The Huskies, 4-2 and 1-1 in the Big East, will continue their season as scheduled Saturday when they head to West Virginia. Edsall said the team will remember Howard with some type of decal on the players' helmets and will aim to create some type of permanent memorial in the Burton Complex.

Those kinds of tributes are merely reminders to the players, all of whom already have their own memories of Howard.

"A lot of guys on this team come from tougher backgrounds that may not have the family support as other people, but when you come here and invest the time and effort for as long as we do, you create a bond that will never be broken that's thicker than blood," Cullen said. "That's one of the things that Jazz achieved when he was here."


Zac Boyer, the editor and publisher of UConnReport.com, covers UConn sports on the Rivals network. He can be reached by e-mail at zacboyer@rivals.com.
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