Murdered College Football Player Went to UConn to Give Family Better Life

Jasper Howard had the names of his teenage sisters Keyondra and Jasmine tattooed across his chest.

His friends say it was a constant reminder for the Connecticut cornerback nicknamed "Jazz" of why he went to college — to work hard for an education and possibly a pro football career.

Yet even those goals were just an avenue to get his family out of Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood and give them a better life.

"And he was doing all those things," UConn football coach Randy Edsall said Tuesday. "And that's what is so sad. That is what makes this thing so tragic. He was doing everything that we asked him to do to escape and to better himself and to better his family."

SLIDESHOW: UConn Football Player Jasper Howard

Howard was fatally stabbed early Sunday morning in the center of UConn's campus, about 30 miles from Hartford, tucked away in what is known as the "quiet corner" of northeastern Connecticut.

"I'm from New York, and Jazz was from the inner city, too," said Lorin Dixon, a player on the UConn women's basketball team who became one of Howard's best friends. "Your parents bring you up here. They believe you're going to be safe."

A 21-year-old Hartford man, Johnny Hood, was arrested at the scene and charged with breach of peace and interfering with police during the incident, but Hood has not been charged with the stabbing. A Hartford attorney, Deron Freeman, said he represents another man whose home was searched in connection with the fight. Freeman said his client did not stab Howard but was present when Howard was mortally wounded.

Police had no new developments in the case Tuesday, but members of Howard's family — who traveled from Miami on Monday — said they are confident the killer will be apprehended.

"We have a lot of pain," Henry Williams, Howard's stepfather, told reporters. "We still have hurt, but we can go on now feeling a little better because a lot of our questions have been answered. The captain of the state police told me, 'The case will be solved,' and I believe him."

For Howard, home was an apartment near Miami's Edison High School, which sits in a rough neighborhood of one-story, tropical-colored homes, some with a few boards where windows should be.

On a recent day, a few dogs wandered the street and nosed through trash on the sidewalk. A housing development is just around the corner; the area is known in Miami for its poverty and violence.

Howard's high school coach, Corey Bell, said he always cautioned his players about staying smart in that rough neighborhood, how the combination of education and football could take them to a better place.

"I made certain to educate those guys, to really emphasize to them how imperative it was for them to stay focused, stay humble, stay hungry and get the best education they could and figure out ways to make their situation better in life," said Bell, now the director of football operations at the University of Miami.

Sacha Challenger, Howard's biology teacher, said Howard did just that. He always was in class on time and was "a motivator on and off the field."

"He was devoted to school," she said. "I don't think any mother could have asked for a better son."

The diminutive Howard, 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, was not considered a blue-chip football recruit. But Edsall saw talent and passion, and gave him a scholarship.

His freshman roommate, safety Kijuan Dabney, said the first time he saw Howard, he was not impressed.

"I just remember a little boy, long dreadlocks and red eyes answering the door," Dabney said. "I was like, 'Who they got me rooming with?"'

"He was so small when he got here, they thought he was going to have to redshirt and gain weight and everything. But once you see him play you're like, 'OK, he's ready. He's a warrior."'

The transition to college life was not smooth.

Howard's mom, Joanglia, was working more than one job back home to support the family. His youngest sister had health issues after battling a severe case of meningitis.

Howard hated not being there to help. During his freshman year, he considered dropping out of school and going to work.

"He told me he was ready to go home," Dabney said. "He wanted to help his mom and his sisters, but coach Edsall took him under his wing, he told him everything was going to be all right and ever since that day on, Jazz was doing work and Jazz was playing hard on the field."

Cornerback Darius Butler, now with the New England Patriots, mentored him.

Howard played as a true freshman and started as a sophomore, leading the Big East in punt returns. This year, his junior season, Howard was becoming a standout.

On Saturday night, he was out with a few teammates, celebrating a big homecoming win over Louisville, a game in which he starred. He had 11 tackles, and stripped and recovered a key fumble in the 38-25 victory.

Howard and his friends went to a dance at the student union. A fire alarm was pulled at about 12:30 a.m. A crowd poured outside and police believe an altercation ensued.

Someone pulled a knife and stabbed Howard.

One fatal wound. Two teammates tried in vain to help him as he lay bleeding.

There was nothing anyone could do.

On Monday, Howard's family visited the campus and met with his teammates. His mother hugged every one.

His stepfather, Henry Williams, said hearing how his son touched so many lives has made his death a bit easier.

"This was Jazz's second family," Williams said. "He treated it like that. When he came here, he fell in love with this place. And it make me feel good and it makes his mother feel good to see the love that came from this place, to see the things he learned here and to see what he left here, 'cause he touched a lot of people here."

Edsall said nobody will wear Howard's No. 6 jersey until after he would have graduated next season.

"And when it is given out, it will only be given out to a very, very special person that has the same qualities that Jazz had," Edsall said.

In the meantime, the jersey will travel with the team for road games.

A funeral service is being planned in Miami on Monday. The entire UConn team will be there.