Abdual Howard has developed into one of FSU's top defenders as he tries to deal with the deaths of his parents.
By BRIAN LANDMAN
© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 5, 2001
TALLAHASSEE -- If facing and overcoming adversity is life's best teacher, folks should recognize Florida State senior safety Abdual Howard as a Rhodes Scholar.
Last summer his father, Richard, died of cancer.
On Valentine's Day his mother, Princetta, died of bone cancer.
Howard has been forced to shoulder more responsibility than a typical 22-year-old student.
He needed to use some of his financial aid to pay for his mother's funeral. He plans to become legal guardian to his brother, Haaj, 15, after the school year. He toyed with the idea of doing that now but realized it would be better for Haaj to stay with an aunt in Quincy, in familiar surroundings with friends, rather than in a small apartment around strangers.
"My family, we're fine," Howard said stoically. "You never get over losing your mother or your father, but we're trying to get to a point where we can get it behind us and lead a normal life just like everybody else."
Howard has persevered, matured and provided an inspirational model.
"What he's gone through, that's a pile, a load for anybody," defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said. "A lot of people couldn't handle it like Abdual has."
"When things go wrong for him, he realizes that it could always be worse and I'm sure it's extra motivation for him," said senior safety Chris Hope, a preseason All-American. "He's lost both of his parents, but he's kept his focus and a level head even though it's always got to be in the back of his mind."
And on his chest.
Howard, trying to finish his criminology degree and his football career on a high note as a first-time starter, will wear a T-shirt emblazoned with a picture of his mother beneath his jersey.
"I can't sit here and say I made it through all on my own. My family, my coaches, the players ... I've had a lot of help," he said. "But it's automatic that I got stronger because I'm in a bigger leadership role."
On the field, too.
The No. 6-ranked Seminoles (1-0), who play their home opener Saturday against Alabama-Birmingham (1-0), have lost seven defensive starters, including safety Derrick Gibson, a first-round NFL draft pick.
Howard, a former standout at Quincy Shanks High, has been a perennial understudy dogged by injuries such as a compound fracture of a finger that cost him the 1998 season. "I've always thought that the Lord would never put me in a position for no reason, so I never questioned it," he said of backing up All-America cornerback Samari Rolle as a freshman in 1997 and Gibson the past two seasons. "I just waited it out. I told myself, "Hey. I'm at Florida State University. What can be better than that?' I train with the best athletes every week. Every week we go into the game favored. I could have been in a situation where we were always the underdogs.
"And my mother always told me that my time would come because I work hard. I work as hard as anybody, even the All-Americans. Hard work always pays off, and it's time for it to pay off now."
Against the Blue Devils, Howard had eight tackles, two on third down. Andrews, a hard-driving perfectionist, said Howard was outstanding and graded higher than any of his defensive backs.
"I want to be as aggressive as I can and at the same time do the job right," said Howard, who has been bothered by a pelvic bone injury. "I just want my teammates to know they can count on me. ... I want them to know that No. 12 is coming to play every game."
Delivering the hard knocks instead of receiving them.
"He's a totally different player this year," Andrews said. "He kept working at it and he did that through some very difficult circumstances. I don't think that's made him a better player, but I think it's made him more determined to become a good player."