MIAMI -- Slain University of Connecticut cornerback Jasper "Jazz" Howard was talented, yet humble, played football with swagger and heart and deeply loved his family.
Hundreds of mourners heard those words at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Miami about the 20-year-old former South Florida high school football standout who was fatally stabbed during an altercation on campus in Storrs, Conn., early on Oct 18. No one has been charged in his death.
"He was someone who had a tremendous heart, and for the people here in this community, and for the family, he was on track for greatness," said Huskies coach Randy Edsall, his voice at times wavering. "He was going to graduate. He was going to have his degree. He was doing everything to make himself the best student, the best person and the best athlete that he could be."
It was Edsall who called Howard's mother to tell her of her first-born's death and the coach identified Howard's body.
"I can't describe [my feelings] right now, but I'm going to make it," Howard's mother, JoAngila, said at the cemetery. "I'm hurting, but I'm going to make it."
Edsall was among those who stood in praise of Howard at his funeral, along with UConn players, friends and former coaches, including Corey Bell, the director of football operations at the University of Miami.
"He was the ultimate son, he was the ultimate brother," Edsall said. "He was the ultimate teammate. He was the ultimate friend. They didn't come any better than Jazz."
Howard's teammate and wide receiver Kashif Moore told mourners, "Jazz loved to have fun, make people laugh. He had a good strong heart. I think he got that from his mother."
The UConn football team arrived at the church in four white buses, many players staying stone-faced throughout the day. They shuffled quietly inside, each picking up a single white rose with a blue ribbon along the way.
"Jazz would never back down from a challenge. That's how Jazz was. ... Jazz had a lot of swag," Moore said.
Edsall said he's coached special young men in his 30 years and that Howard was "right there at the top."
"He had that smile, he had that charisma," Edsall said. "He could make me mad, you know? Especially when he tried to catch those punts over the shoulder. But he was always trying to make a play."
Howard, who wore jersey No. 6, averaged 11.8 yards per punt return last season to lead the Big East, according to the UConn Web site.
Just hours before he was killed, the junior had a career-high 11 tackles on Oct. 17 and made perhaps the game's biggest play, forcing a fumble as Louisville was about to score with UConn up 21-13 in the third quarter. UConn won 38-25, but lost in an emotionally charged game Saturday to West Virginia 28-24. Through six games, Howard had 35 tackles.
One man faces charges of breach of peace and interfering with police in the stabbing but is not charged in the killing. Police this weekend searched storm drains and a lake on campus near the area of the stabbing but wouldn't say what they were looking for.
Some members of Howard's family, including his mother, wore pale blue clothes that matched the lining of Howard's dark blue casket. He was dressed in a light blue suit and had on a pair of gray and blue football gloves.
Howard's casket, covered in red roses, was closed after the ceremony began. It was taken to the cemetery in a horse-drawn glass hearse, and he was interred in the bottom corner of a tan mausoleum. Friends and family surrounded the casket as it was pushed inside the vault. Some left flowers afterward and others stopped to snap pictures.
Howard's mother did not speak at the funeral, nor did his pregnant girlfriend, Daneisha Freeman. A letter to Howard from Freeman was included in the service program, however, as were pictures of the couple together.
"I know you may not be here physically, but you will always live in me and our daughter," the letter read. "It hurts me so much to know that Ja'Miya will never have the chance to meet her father."