By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
October 18, 2009
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Bill Stewart’s Sunday afternoon teleconference was supposed to cover Saturday’s Marshall game. Instead, the West Virginia coach spent a good portion of it trying to make sense of a senseless tragedy that took place early Sunday morning at the University of Connecticut.
Jasper Howard, a starting cornerback on the Husky football team, was stabbed to death during a fight at the UConn Student Union. Just hours earlier, Howard played in Connecticut’s 38-25 victory over Louisville, causing a key fumble when the Huskies were leading 21-13 at the time.
“We are just stunned, as the nation is, regarding what happened on that campus in the early morning hours today after such a tremendous game he played yesterday,” said a noticeably upset Stewart. “I’m just sick for Randy (Edsall) and Jasper’s family. My God, how short and sweet life is and what we take for granted.”
Stewart recalled Howard’s performance last year as one of the top punt returners in the Big East.
“I haven’t seen a snap from this year, except his playmaking highlights from yesterday prior to our game,” Stewart said. “I remember him leading the Big East in punt returns and him as an absolute terror on special teams. He looked like a leader and an emotional, fun-loving guy.”
Stewart said some of his players were shaken by the news.
“This has been weighing heavily in our hearts,” he said. “Your West Virginia players are visibly upset at this time. They knew this man. I will certainly address this situation today and the short but wonderful life of Jasper Howard.”
Stewart said West Virginia will have discussions with the Big East Conference and the University of Connecticut as to how to appropriately honor Howard’s memory during Saturday’s game against the Huskies at Milan Puskar Stadium.
“We will do whatever needs to be done,” he said. “It’s been a rough morning. I balled this morning. I’ve met with one of my superiors. I’ve been in conversation with my two immediate bosses. We’ve discussed some gestures we’re going to do, and we’re going to have a call with the Big East soon.
“I’m very good friends with Randy,” Stewart added. “I can’t imagine what that football family and the Howard family is going through.”
Stewart said the tragedy at Connecticut is a time for everyone to pull together.
“I love each and every one (of his players) dearly,” Stewart said. “This is when it’s a time of family and hanging in there as a group is important. We have to realize how lucky we are to live in this great world.”
“I don’t know anything about Jarrett except that we met with (trainer) Dave Kerns this morning, and we all seem to think that we will be day-to-day,” said Stewart. “I don’t know if he will play this weekend or not. We will have to see. He won’t practice today, and we’re just going out in helmets and vests. What’s that tell you? That’s not good.”
“He got leg whipped and I don’t know what is going to happen to him,” Stewart said. “Poor kid has just been hobbled all season. We’re going to have to wait and see. He’s been at both treatments this morning.”
“I always go five plays with the first team and three plays with the second,” he said. “You have to get that in – at least. There are many days when we get more than that, because we go back and repeat. To me, you have to work them both. I will never split them because they don’t play 50 percent of the time.”
Stewart recalled what was done in the pros when he coached in Canada.
“They go 90 to 10 – first team 90 percent and the second team 10 percent,” he said. “You can’t coach college ball like that because these guys get hurt. When the pro quarterbacks get hurt, you see what happens to them.”
Stewart was asked his thoughts on all of the Big East teams using their backup quarterbacks in games this weekend.
“Wow, I didn’t know that. I knew Cincinnati might. I don’t even know who the five are because all I watch is the next opponent,” he said. “I know UConn has good quarterbacks in both Cody (Endres) and Zach (Fraser).
“That is what is happening in college football. It’s a physical game, and people get hurt. You just have to carry on and march.”
“The throw he made to Noel Devine in the flat was about the third or fourth read – that was colossal,” he said. “The throw to Will Johnson on the short yardage was a laser. Just think of some of the throws this kid made. The one to Wes Lyons? My God, this kid didn’t panic. He didn’t panic at Auburn either. And that touchdown to (Alric) Arnett was just special.”
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