Jerry Howard Sr., delivered furniture and worked long hours away from his family. He never worked on Friday nights in the fall.
Those hours were strictly reserved for watching his son, also Jerry Howard, bash over would-be tacklers, slither between blockers, race toward the end zone, and move closer to a free college education and future success.
Jerry Howard Jr. will have a loud group of family members in the stands Saturday when he wears the No. 28 jersey for South Carolina in the Shrine Bowl. But Jerry Sr. will be among them in spirit only. He was fatally shot on Dec. 2.
Lakisha Howard said her son may see an angel up in the stands Saturday in Spartanburg.
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“Because he’s there,” she said. “He’s always gonna be there.”
Lakisha is trying to cope with her husband’s unsolved murder. She reads, plays with her grandchildren, talks to her husband of 18 years as if he were sitting in the room with her.
“His pictures in my memory are my therapy,” she said. “My heart is very heavy right now.”
At his mother’s urging, Jerry Jr. is playing football this week with South Carolina’s Shrine Bowl team – the Sandlappers.
“Sometimes football is that place where you get together with another family and put some of the stresses and pressures of the world behind you,” said David Pierce, Howard’s coach at Northwestern. “Jerry realizes that. The kid’s focused, he’s on a mission. This is where he loves to be, he loves to be on a football field.”
The players here helped me out a lot. I think some of them might have never known their parents, or one parent, or lost a parent.
Northwestern’s Jerry Howard was welcomed with open arms by his South Carolina Shrine Bowl teammates, most of whom were aware of his father’s recent death.
Howard is playing with the Carolinas’ best, and even 6-foot, 215-pound star running backs headed to the Atlantic Coast Conference can be humbled by the gathered studs and stars in Spartanburg. There was the play during Tuesday’s practice when Howard spun into a running lane and met a defender’s helmet, which smashed his hand and forced a fumble. Later that afternoon, he was blocking when a rushing nose guard caught him flat-footed and knocked him on to his rear end.
Everybody, including Howard, plopped on the dormant Bermuda grass, laughed. Joking catcalls came from coaches on the sideline. With so much on his mind, this was needed.
“Football takes off a lot of it,” Howard said after practice. “It pushes me more, it lets me know that somebody’s always watching over me. At night, I might get a little sad but I know my dad would say keep pushing and my sister definitely would say keep pushing.”
“His Eye Is On The Sparrow” played at Gethsemene Church on Saturday during Jerry Howard Sr.’s funeral.
Northwestern teammates showed up at the packed service to back their friend. Quarterback Gage Moloney, who put the ball in Howard’s gut so many times the last two seasons, surprised his buddy by attending. Moloney was named the state’s Mr. Football the same day in Myrtle Beach, but he skipped the ceremony to support his close friend.
“That meant a lot to me,” Howard said. “He really does care about his teammates and all his boys. He went the extra level that day.”
Another surprise: Georgia Tech assistant football coach Mike Sewak flew in from Atlanta. Jerry Sr., was a key figure in helping his son decide to switch his college commitment from East Carolina to Georgia Tech – academics being one of the biggest reasons – and was thrilled at the job prospects his son would have after he graduated from the prominent engineering school.
“We did pretty much everything together,” Howard said. “My dad was a very funny guy. He always kept a smile on me and my mom and sister’s face and he always went the extra step for us .... If that meant working seven days a week for us then he worked seven days a week.”
It’s easy to see that same devotion to betterment in the son. He was back at school on Monday, just three days after his father passed. He didn’t want to miss a math test.
You get in this world what you give, and he’s given so much of himself. He’s a kid of such great character and is so strong, and that’s what he gets back. The Northwestern community has wrapped its arms around him and really supported him at this time.
Northwestern coach David Pierce
A pair of angels
Jerry Howard and his family unfortunately have experience dealing with death.
His older sister, Quasha, was killed in a car wreck in Chester County last year. Jerry Sr., again provided a template. He was a foundation for the family as it grieved, especially Lakisha.
Maybe the one positive thing to come out of Quasha’s loss is Howard’s clear understanding of the role his family needs him to play in this tragedy.
“I knew the feeling, so I made sure my mom was good and all my siblings,” he said. “My mom and my sister were my first concerns.”
Look closer and Jerry Sr.’s imprint is all over his son.
He never sagged his pants, he handled his school work, was a great teammate, a coach’s delight. Even though Jerry Jr., ran over countless tacklers with his freight train-like runs, he never gloated or bragged. People would have forgiven him that indulgence, but Jerry Sr., wouldn’t.
“He was just so proud of his son,” Lakisha said. “He knows what his son can accomplish, and will accomplish. That would make him smile.”
When Jerry Jr., found out in October he made the Shrine Bowl team, he called his dad first. Jerry Sr., was supposed to keep the news a secret but was so excited that he called Lakisha and told her. They immediately bought their game tickets.
A different family member will use Jerry Sr.’s ticket on Saturday. But Jerry Howard Jr.’s newest angel will still be there in the Gibbs Stadium stands, inspiring his son to more greatness.
Bret McCormick: 803-329-4032
The latest on the investigation
Rock Hill Police Capt. Mark Bollinger, the department’s spokesman, said Wednesday that multiple detectives are still chasing leads in the Jerry Howard Sr. murder investigation, but that there were no new concrete developments to report.
Howard Sr.’s wife, Lakisha, said she and her family are very much cooperating with the police investigation. She’s still gnawed by what could have motivated the killer.
“Before you pulled that trigger did you even think about his granddaughter that’s 3 years old and is still running around asking, ‘When is he coming home from the hospital?’,” she said Wednesday. “Knowing that he will never see his son’s accomplishment, his daughter’s accomplishments, knowing that I will never get to grow old with my best friend, it hurts.”