Commentary

Flashback: Remembering Howard's spirit

Updated: October 21, 2009, 9:53 AM ET
By Brian Stumpf | ESPNRISE.com

Each week, ESPNRISE.com's Football Flashback will spotlight three top performers from the past weekend's college and NFL games and look back at their high school glory days. The initial week's look is melancholy, however, as we remember Connecticut defensive back Jasper Howard, who died early Sunday morning after he was stabbed outside a university-sanctioned dance in Storrs, Conn.

[+] EnlargeJasper Howard
Tom Hauck for ESPNRISEAt Edison (Miami, Fla.), Jasper Howard was known for his work ethic and ability to make big plays.

Jasper Howard

The 5-9, 171-pound junior, who was the Big East's leading punt returner last year, had a career-high 11 tackles in Saturday's 38-25 win over Louisville and made perhaps the game's biggest play, forcing a fumble as Louisville threatened to score with UConn up 21-13 in the third quarter. He was the Huskies' third-leading tackler through the Louisville game, with 35 stops.

In his prep days at Edison (Miami, Fla.), Howard was a hard worker who got the most out of a lean 5-9, 153-pound frame, earning third-team All-Dade County honors as a junior and first-team honors as a senior. He also took home the MVP award in the Nike Dade-Broward County all-star game in 2007 after returning a punt 70 yards for a score and catching a 45-yard touchdown pass. Howard frequented ESPN RISE's Nike camps and combines, and at the Nike Football Training Camp at Miami prior to his senior year he displayed his trademark quickness by posting one of the event's top shuttle times (4.03 seconds) and also ran a 4.60 40-yard dash.

To read a story about how UConn has coped with Howard's passing, click here.

Denver Broncos WR Eddie Royal

Then: Royal was the Group AAA player of the year in Virginia as a senior in 2003, leading Westfield (Chantilly, Va.) to a state title along with future Virginia Tech quarterback Sean Glennon and Penn State running back Evan Royster. Royal broke out as a national prospect at the '03 Virginia Tech Nike Camp, where he won overall MVP honors after clocking a 4.37 40 and posting a 36-inch vertical jump. He eventually signed with Virginia Tech but also visited Tennessee.

Now: Royal is a second-year wideout with the Broncos, who took him in the second round of the 2008 draft. Royal caught 91 passes as a rookie, second most in NFL history for a first-year player, and while his numbers are down he is a vital part of Denver's 6-0 start. He became the first Bronco to score on kickoff and punt returns in the same game in Monday night's 34-23 victory at San Diego.

Kyle Orton
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comKyle Orton turned heads at the 2000 Illinois Nike Camp while at tiny Southeast Polk (Altoona, Iowa).

Who: Denver Broncos QB Kyle Orton

Then: Emerged out of tiny Southeast Polk (Altoona, Iowa) as a national prospect after he turned heads at the 2000 Illinois Nike Camp, where he hooked up with another future NFL star, Larry Fitzgerald. Orton would earn a spot at the Elite 11 in the Class of 2001, joining the likes of future NFLers Matt Leinart, Derek Anderson, Kellen Clemens, Brodie Croyle, D.J. Shockley, Ingle Martin and Adrian McPherson. Orton eventually signed with Purdue after decommitting to Colorado.

Now: Orton, who was "the other quarterback" in the big offseason Jay Cutler trade, has played nearly spotless football in leading the Broncos to their 6-0 start. The fifth-year player has passed for 1,465 yards and nine touchdowns with just one interception and has a passer rating of 100.1. Orton is 27-12 as a starter in the NFL.