Houston’s Fifth Ward gave Dolphins’ Xavien Howard his ambition

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Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard returns to Houston to play the Texans on Thursday night (8:20 ET, Fox). This weekend, he plans to walk the streets of his old neighborhood.

A Houston native, Howard tells outsiders to stay far away from the Fifth Ward. It’s a high-crime neighborhood northeast of downtown. Danger can find you in the Fifth Ward.

In making his way out, Howard is starting to make a name for himself.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

“Who’s Xavien Howard?” asked Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins, tongue-in-cheek, in the lead-up to Thursday’s game.

Howard, 25, in his third NFL season, is tied for the NFL lead with three interceptions. He made his big splash last December with two interceptions each against the Denver Broncos and Tom Brady’s Patriots in back-to-back games.

“He’s kind of an underrated guy across the league. Last year he played really well, and this year he’s been playing great. He’s been shutting everything down,” rookie defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick said. “He’s just waiting on his moment for everybody to recognize who he is and the job that he does.”9

You’ve likely heard stories similar to Howard’s before. The NFL is full of players who used football to get out of bad circumstances. Howard knows he is fortunate, given some of the things he witnessed growing up.

When he was in middle school, Howard was playing basketball near his home when, he says, a man shot another man 10 yards away from him. Then the shooter saw Howard.

“I was traumatized by that for a long, long time. After he did it, he looked at me and said, ‘Go in the house, they shooting.’ I’m just happy the guy didn’t shoot me or come get me,” Howard said.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

Howard told his mother, Luckcher Howard, what happened and she feared for his safety. She sent him to stay with his grandmother, who lived 30 minutes away, for two months. He was still frightened the man would find him.

“That day made me change everything about me. I straightened up. I started taking sports seriously,” Howard said. “I said, ‘I got to get me and my family out of the hood and away from seeing this.'”

Howard uses the ritual of returning to his old neighborhood to remind himself of what he escaped.

When he walks the streets of the Fifth Ward in Houston, Howard sees a drug dealer on the corner selling an eight-ball of cocaine; his eyes settle on a homeless man sitting on the side of Lyons Avenue; his friends tell him a story of the kid who got jumped and robbed near the Fruits of the Fifth Ward mural. Howard could have been any of those people.

Taking the walk is his version of therapy, self-preservation and making sure he never gets too comfortable.