The Day UConn Fell Silent: Remembering Jasper Howard 3 Years Later
I will never forget the 2009 UConn football team and what it stood for. At the end of the season, one that ended with the Huskies at 8-5, no one cared about the record. The season ended with the Huskies on a four-game winning streak, sticking to the words of a young man who will never be forgotten by anyone in UConn Country: “Play every play as if it’s the last play you’ll ever play.”
The Huskies that season were one of the best teams in UConn history. A narrow loss against No. 19 North Carolina and a last-second field goal at Pittsburgh were all that separated UConn from a 5-0 record. The Huskies had even gone on the road and had quarterback Cody Endres outplay a guy who has come to be known simply as RGIII, as the Huskies beat Baylor 30-22. On October 17th, however, they entered their Homecoming game against Louisville with a 3-2 record on the short season.
It was a team that could easily contend for the Big East title and have no questions asked about whether or not they deserved a BCS berth. Their legitimacy was made even more apparent against Louisville. The Huskies took care of the Cardinals 38-25 at Rentschler Field. One of the top performers on the day was cornerback Jasper Howard, who made 11 tackles and forced a critical fumble.
The game was thought to provide a big momentum boost for the Huskies that could propel them to a BCS berth. But what would happen several hours later, at the Student Union across from Gampel Pavilion, made everyone forget all about football.
Shortly after midnight, on October 18th, 2009, Jasper Howard was stabbed to death at the age of 20.
News spread quickly throughout the small state — I found out early that morning, and was devastated — Howard was one of my favorite players on the team. As a UConn fan in my senior year of high school and about to send my application to my dream school, I had been cheering his name not 24 hours prior after he forced that incredible fumble.
The news hit me hard. This was the first time in my life that UConn was hit by such a tragedy, and it left a hole in my stomach. Howard was a person to look up to — always happy, always smiling, always positive — he was as unique a player as there was in football.
Why must such an awful thing happen to such an incredible person?
A friend of mine was a freshman at UConn at the time. When I asked him about the mood on campus, he responded by saying that you could hear a pin drop from one side of campus to the other.
Howard’s death touched hearts around the state and around the country, and it brought an entire community together. The school and the state needed the football team more than ever, even when nobody expected them to even win a bowl game. The school, the state and really the players just needed the team to get back on the field and keep playing football.
But what makes the end of the 2009 season so incredible is how hard the Huskies fought in the name of No. 6.
UConn lost the next two games at No. 23 West Virginia and against Rutgers by a combined total of eight points, falling to 4-4. Again, no one cared any longer about wins and losses, but just watching the team continue to play on was inspiring. However, with the events that transpired over the next five games, it was hard for anyone watching to doubt that there was someone guiding over that team.
The Huskies went to Cincinnati the next weekend to take on the fifth-ranked Bearcats, who went into the game with an 8-0 record. The Bearcats at one time led 37-17, but the Huskies were not a team that would ever give up. They fought their way back into the game, even though they ultimately came up short, losing 47-45. But the momentum from the comeback carried into the following weekend, to a Saturday night that brought me to tears.
The next Saturday, UConn had a national audience on NBC. The Huskies were playing in South Bend, Indiana, against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
The Irish were struggling in 2009 and head coach Charlie Weis was already on the hot seat, but on Senior Day, the Irish were expected to beat the Huskies, who had not won since the death of Howard.
I turned to the game with no expectations for a win. As a lifelong fan, one who grew up going to Memorial Stadium and then to Rentschler Field, it was just an exciting moment to see the team I love playing in one of the cathedrals of college football.
Before I knew it, the game was in double overtime and UConn running back Andre Dixon was crossing the goal line. He sprinted to the corner of the endzone, where his teammates piled on top of him. The scoreboard read UConn-33, Notre Dame-30.
There was no stopping it — I was immediately overcome by emotion. When Dixon scored, after pacing back and forth the entire game, I dropped to my knees and cried. It had been an incredibly tough month in UConn Country.
UConn beat Notre Dame. To this day, it remains the biggest win in UConn history. More importantly, it was the first win since the death of Jasper Howard. No one could contain their emotions, not even Head Coach Randy Edsall.
UConn went on to beat Syracuse and South Florida to finish the regular season 7-5. With its new-found bowl eligibility, it was selected to play in the PapaJohns.com Bowl against Steve Spurrier and South Carolina.
UConn knocked off the SEC opponent 20-7, never letting the Gamecocks feel like they had a chance. Once again, it seemed like Jazz was pulling the strings from somewhere, watching over the team. No one who saw that game will ever forget when Howard’s roommate and best friend, Kashif Moore, reached out his arm and by some miracle found the ball in his hand and ended up getting into the endzone.
All I remember thinking was, “Wow, Jazz definitely put the ball right where Kashif could grab it.”
Three years later, I still think back to the 2009 Huskies and how a team that had its heart ripped out in October never gave up. The team never lost hope, and with a little intervention from an old friend, made UConn Country realize that sometimes, life is a lot bigger than the score of a football game.