Jordan Howard walked to the lectern when he was introduced as the Eagles’ new running back on Monday with the top few buttons of his shirt open to reveal a big, round pendant hanging from his gold necklace. The pendant displayed an old photo of Howard and his parents.
There was meaning beyond a fashion statement for the 24-year-old Alabama native.
“Those two, they mean everything to me,” Howard said. “My dad, he passed away when I was 12. My mom, she’s always been there for me, but she stepped it up. She’s been to every game I’ve had.”
That’s home and away, no matter the level, no matter the destination.
“That started when he was 8 years old,” Flora Hollis-Williams said by phone on Tuesday. “I didn’t know, as a parent, that you have a choice whether you attend or not. So it’s something I’ve always done.”
She’s missed only one of her son’s games, when he was 10 and she traveled to Florida for her aunt’s funeral.
Hollis-Williams called Howard’s necklace “very significant” because it revealed the relationship that Howard maintained with his parents. Howard’s father died from pulmonary fibrosis. Since then, Howard has worn a T-shirt under his game jersey honoring his father. The shirt has Reginald Howard’s photo on it and reads “In Memory of My Dad.” The white cotton has faded from sweat over the years and the sleeves have been cut with slits so the shirt could still fit, according to the Chicago Tribune, but Hollis-Williams said it remains a part of her son’s game-day ritual.
“At 12 years old, it’s always difficult, especially for a young son,” she said. “Because his father was one of his best friends. His father was not just his father but his friend as well. So he carries him close to his heart.”
It was Reginald who had pegged Howard for a future in the NFL even when his youth coaches wanted him as a lineman and not a running back. During Howard’s teenage years, it was Hollis-Williams took who her son to practices and games, helping him with the college process when the recruiting interest didn’t match his burgeoning talent. Howard went to Alabama-Birmingham, became a starter as a freshman, and set a school record with 1,587 rushing yards as a sophomore -- good for the nation’s seventh-best yards-per-game average.
In December 2014, Hollis-Williams heard that UAB players were called in for a meeting. When she turned on the television that day, she saw footage of her son crying. The program had folded.
“That was heartbreaking for him,” Hollis-Williams said.
Howard needed to complete finals and find a new school. He quickly landed at Indiana, where Hollis-Williams’ trips became longer and Howard immediately realized he was not in Alabama.
“It was the coldest day; school was shut down because it was so cold,” Hollis-Williams said. “But I told him at that time, ‘If you want to play in the NFL, we don’t know where you’re going to end up, so this will just prepare you for the weather.’ And look where we are. Chicago to the Eagles.”
She will be there will be with him in Philadelphia -- whether it’s in a picture hanging from his neck or in the stands at Lincoln Financial Field this autumn.
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