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Editor’s note: This story was initially published on Oct. 25, 2018. The Dolphins are creating Xavien Howard the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback with a 5-year, $76.five million deal that has $46 million assured, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Might 9.


MIAMI — Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard returns to Houston to play the Texans on Thursday evening (eight:20 ET, Fox). This weekend, he plans to stroll the streets of his old neighborhood.

A Houston native, Howard tells outsiders to keep far away from the Fifth Ward. It really is a higher-crime neighborhood northeast of downtown. Danger can come across you in the Fifth Ward.

In creating his way out, Howard is beginning to make a name for himself.

“Who’s Xavien Howard?” asked Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins, tongue-in-cheek, in the lead-up to Thursday’s game.

Howard, 25, in his third NFL season, is tied for the NFL lead with 3 interceptions. He produced his huge splash final December with two interceptions each and every against the Denver Broncos and Tom Brady’s Patriots in back-to-back games.

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“He’s type of an underrated guy across the league. Final year he played definitely nicely, and this year he’s been playing fantastic. He’s been shutting all the things down,” rookie defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick mentioned. “He’s just waiting on his moment for everyone to recognize who he is and the job that he does.”

You have probably heard stories comparable to Howard’s just before. The NFL is complete of players who employed football to get out of undesirable situations. Howard knows he is fortunate, offered some of the factors he witnessed developing up.

When he was in middle college, Howard was playing basketball close to his residence when, he says, a man shot a different man 10 yards away from him. Then the shooter saw Howard.

“I was traumatized by that for a lengthy, lengthy time. Soon after he did it, he looked at me and mentioned, ‘Go in the property, they shooting.’ I am just content the guy did not shoot me or come get me,” Howard mentioned.

Howard told his mother, Luckcher Howard, what occurred and she feared for his security. She sent him to keep with his grandmother, who lived 30 minutes away, for two months. He was nonetheless frightened the man would come across him.

“That day produced me alter all the things about me. I straightened up. I began taking sports seriously,” Howard mentioned. “I mentioned, ‘I got to get me and my loved ones out of the hood and away from seeing this.'”

Howard utilizes the ritual of returning to his old neighborhood to remind himself of what he escaped.

When he walks the streets of the Fifth Ward in Houston, Howard sees a drug dealer on the corner promoting an eight-ball of cocaine his eyes settle on a homeless man sitting on the side of Lyons Avenue his good friends inform him a story of the kid who got jumped and robbed close to the Fruits of the Fifth Ward mural. Howard could have been any of these persons.

Taking the stroll is his version of therapy, self-preservation and creating positive he by no means gets also comfy.

A life-altering tragedy

Howard’s discomfort did not cease when he left the Fifth Ward. He’s reminded of the consequences of huge blunders just about every day. His older sister and childhood part model, Ashley, is in prison on a 35-year sentence.

“His sister is his heart,” mentioned Cornelius McFarland, Howard’s higher college football coach. “I know that bothered him. I know it nonetheless bothers him.”

In Might 2013, Ashley Howard and two other ladies — Shiquanta Franklin and Racquel Gonzalez — decided to steal 16 polo shirts from Macy’s in Deerbrook Mall, per court records. Police followed them on a higher-speed chase as they escaped in a red Dodge.

Franklin, the driver, ran a red light, hitting a different car or truck and killing the driver, Rosalva Quezada, per court records. Quezada also had her 3 sons in the car or truck, a single of whom was critically hurt in the accident. Gonzalez testified that Howard told Franklin to “maintain going” alternatively of stopping at the red light mainly because “she had also substantially to shed.”

Xavien, then a redshirt freshman cornerback at Baylor, was devastated. In February 2016, Ashley was identified guilty of felony murder. Franklin was sentenced to 25 years.

“Xavien was going to do what ever he had to do for her,” McFarland mentioned. “I do not know if that is a single of the causes why he came out early from college. But I feel it could be. I know it was a grind for him to be a good effect on a loved ones that was going by way of so substantially.”

McFarland mentioned Ashley also had a opportunity to get out of the Fifth Ward. She was a multisport athlete who got a scholarship to play basketball at a regional Texas college. But Ashley left college just after a single year, returned residence and got in difficulty though hunting for strategies to make funds.

Xavien, who asked McFarland to be a character witness for Ashley for the duration of her trial, also saved his funds to enable her get legal representation.

Ashley fought back tears when she issued an apology to the victims for the duration of the trial through a Houston Television station: “It was an accident. What far more can we say? We apologize.”

Xavien, the second-eldest of seven children, left Baylor just after his redshirt junior season and was drafted in the second round in 2016. He assists care for Ashley’s young son.

Xavien Howard celebrates just after a fumble recovery against the Bears. “He’s type of an underrated guy across the league,” says teammate Minkah Fitzpatrick. Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire

Fifth Ward in him

This time, Xavien Howard’s return to the Fifth Ward is element of a company trip. He has immediately emerged as a star cornerback, and Thursday evening will be his very first time in Houston as an NFL player.

His man-coverage capability has convinced Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke to permit Howard to shadow major receivers.

Burke raves about Howard’s physicality. McFarland says that is the Fifth Ward in him.

Howard was a late-bloomer at cornerback — he only played a single year at that position just before he got to Baylor. He was a receiver and quarterback in his very first 3 years at Wheatley Higher College.

McFarland knew Howard was going to be the subsequent huge factor just after he rushed for 185 yards and two touchdowns, passed for 245 yards and two TDs, and returned two interceptions for TDs in his final higher college game.

“He came to the sideline at a single point he did not have practically nothing left. I turned to him and mentioned, ‘Xavien, tonight you are earning your scholarship,'” McFarland mentioned. “He took a different drink of water, went back in and showed out. We ended up losing that game in a shootout, but I keep in mind the complete [team that won] locating Xavien and shaking his hand.”

Howard locked down the higher college passing lanes with Bengals cornerback William Jackson. They met in middle college when they got in a fight at a skating rink. But ultimately, a friendship evolved.

“It really is straightforward to choose the incorrect route mainly because everywhere you go, you see it,” Jackson mentioned about developing up in the Fifth Ward. “It really is straightforward to be the doughboys [drug dealers] — they had the nicest garments and footwear. It was straightforward to gravitate toward that. X and I did not take the straightforward way out, and now we’re in the NFL.”

Howard and Jackson played against each and every other for the very first time in Week five, when the Bengals beat the Dolphins, and exchanged jerseys afterward.

“Me and Will changed a lot of guys’ mindset that is in Fifth Ward proper now. It was normally adverse going about Fifth Ward,” Howard mentioned. “The shootings, drugs — you can not cease. It really is nonetheless going on. A bullet do not have a name on it. But I want children to know they can make it out also.”

He has come also far to fall back or quick of his ultimate targets.

“I go back to Fifth Ward to give myself motivation. I go back to remind myself I ain’t produced it however,” Howard mentioned. “I go back to inform myself, if you do not do this factor proper, you could be back right here.”

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