Miami Dolphins star Xavien Howard gives back, maintains hometown roots: ‘Man, it’s been a crazy journey’

Miami Dolphins star cornerback Xavien Howard conducts youth football camp in hometown, giving children hope in the neighborhood.

HOUSTON — Growing up in the Fifth Ward, Xavien Howard became scarred and toughened by his childhood experiences as he witnessed violent crimes in a hardscrabble community that has frequently struggled to overcome poverty and addiction issues.

As bleak as those surroundings were, especially when Howard was an elementary student playing basketball outside and saw a shooting on the railroad tracks and was noticed by the gunman, the future Miami Dolphins’ star cornerback was extremely determined to make it out of that environment.

Xavien Howard rose above childhood trauma

The shooting incident traumatized Howard and his family. The shooter knew that Howard saw him do it. And Howard’s mother was worried enough that she sent him to live with his grandmother for a few months before law enforcement captured the shooter.

The fear factor was real, and so was the motivation the tragic situation provided to a young man with dreams of athletic glory. If anything, what Howard saw sparked an even deeper ambition in him to find a pathway out. He grew more serious about football and academics.

“Man, it’s been a crazy journey,” Howard said Saturday morning. “Stuff I seen, it made me numb to a lot of stuff. I feel like a kid shouldn’t see that or go through that, but I took that, and it motivated me to get away from here.

“I seen everything as a kid you can see. Growing up here in the Fifth Ward, I feel like that just motivated me to keep going and put my family in a better situation.”

Howard’s motivated to succeed and give back

Although Howard went on to earn a scholarship to Baylor University, become an elite NFL defensive player, earn three Pro Bowl selections, led the NFL in interceptions twice, and earned an adjusted five-year, $90 million contract this spring, he has never forgotten or abandoned his roots.

Howard held his annual youth football camp Saturday at Wheatley High School, where he was part of a formidable defensive back tandem with Washington Commanders cornerback William Jackson III. Joined by Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, a Houston native, and defensive tackle Raekwon Davis, Howard hosted over 150 kids at his alma mater. Howard provided football knowledge, motivational messages, and a hot lunch catered by a local restaurant.


For Howard, 28, his message is primarily about the importance of a good education to have options in life outside of sports. The odds are long to become a shutdown NFL corner like Howard, who has intercepted a combined 15 passes over the past two seasons.

“That’s the most important thing is education,” said Howard. “The knowledge, they can’t take that from you. Not everybody can be a football player. Everybody wants the football, basketball, be a rapper, stuff like that, but there’s other stuff out there.

“You can be great in life. Especially in the inner city, we need more lawyers. We need a lot of things out here, doctors, everything. I just want the kids to keep growing, keep aspiring.”

It’s a message of hope that Howard embraces. He has seen firsthand the consequences of a mistake.

His older sister, Ashley Howard, is in prison on a felony murder conviction stemming from a high-speed police chase and fatal car accident after she and an accomplice stole clothing from a Macy’s department store at a Houston mall nine years ago.

Although she issued an emotional apology to the victims during her trial, she was convicted in 2016 and sentenced to 35 years. Now, Xavien Howard assists in caring for his sister’s son.

For Howard, the wise decisions he’s made are all paying dividends for him and friends like Jackson.

“Especially me and William Jackson, we had a couple guys come out of the inner city of Houston and fulfill their dreams and chase their dreams and play some good ball,” Howard said. “It means everything. I want to thank the coaches that was here and pushed us and kept us going.”

For Howard, it’s about respect over money

A former All-Big 12 selection and second-round draft pick, Howard requested a trade a year ago due to a contract dispute. He ultimately reported to training camp, and the Dolphins reworked his contract to make him the highest-paid corner in the league in 2021, including incentives and bonuses.

Represented by veteran agent David Canter, Howard got another lucrative bump in pay on April 1. He has the highest new-money average for a corner by over $5 million in NFL history. He became the first corner in NFL history to have five years of his contracts be fully guaranteed. Additionally, Howard is also the first NFL player to have his contract completely restructured, with both four years and three years remaining in his original deals.

At 6-foot-1, 198 pounds, with an instinctive, aggressive style, Howard has 27 career interceptions. For him, it’s not only about the money. It’s about the respect it embodies.

“I would say money is not everything to me personally,” Howard said. “I like people, the character they show. Money, it only gets you so far in life. The person, being the genuine person, the love you have for people, that’s what I care about. Money, it’s going to come. It’s just really how you treat people.

“The deal is done with the Dolphins. It was mostly about respect. I’m happy with where I’m at right now and just focus on stuff and keep going.”

Respect means everything to Howard. It was paid to him by the presence of longtime friends from the community, including Polo Kerber, and his teammates.

“Man, I’m just looking around, seeing all the kids coming out, and it’s a great environment with everybody having fun and great energy,” Davis said. “I love to see this. Xavien is my teammate, he’s my brother. He’s got my back just like I have his back.”

One year after intercepting five passes, forcing two fumbles, scoring two touchdowns, and recording 50 tackles and one sack, Howard is encouraged by the Dolphins’ outlook under new coach Mike McDaniel, the replacement for Brian Flores.

“We’re definitely on the come-up,” Howard said. “They did a lot of great things this offseason. I’m expecting a lot of big things this year.”

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