O.J. Howard's dad has been to every game since son was 5-years-old

By Alex Butler  |  Dec. 14, 2017 at 6:00 AM
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Dec. 14 (UPI) -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie O.J. Howard always has one thing with him on game day: his father.

It has been like that since he was 5-years-old.

From Prattville to Tuscaloosa and now in Tampa, Kareem stood wearing Howard's jerseys.

"Whether it's football baseball or just anything in general that didn't involve sports, he has always been there and now at the next level in the NFL," Howard told UPI. "He hasn't missed a game yet, so just that bond since I've been a little kid has always been really strong."

Gillette recently provided an example of how strong by putting together a video. The footage showed Howard playing in his first NFL game on Sept. 17. Tampa Bay won that contest 29-7 against the Chicago Bears at Raymond James Stadium. Howard had one catch for 17 yards in his NFL debut.

After the game, Howard sat down in the' locker room, wearing headphones to hear the same sounds his dad heard, while he watched his performance from the same viewpoint as Kareem.

"He has never missed one," Howard said. "That's the cool thing about it. Every game knowing you have support. You have family and friends there it gives you extra energy and extra confidence to just go out there and play for your family and friends."

Howard said he saw the opportunity as a way to tell the world where they started from and where he was raised.

"As a father, I feel like your job is to support your kid in everything they do," Kareem Howard said. "Especially when they give so much effort like O.J. has done. As I said, as a father, that's my job, that's my duty. That's what a father should do, always be there for his kid."

Howard, 23, was the No. 19 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. He has 402 yards and five touchdowns on the season.

His first touchdown will be forever remembered; as will be the jersey he wore on draft day.

"I scored my first touchdown and still have the ball of course," Howard said. "We are going to have that framed. My jersey that I got drafted with, the Bucs gave that to me the first day, so we are going to get that also placed and framed. Those are just some of the things that I have right now...that just share a strong bond between us and it's a symbol of how far we have come from where we started."

Howard said that his mom also attends his games and usually family and friends come along to add to his cheering section. He had a crowd of 30 supporters when the Buccaneers faced the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 26 at the brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

"It has impacted [him] a lot on the field, knowing we are there," Kareem said. "Supporting him no matter what. He always heard us cheering him on from peewee to high school to college to now the NFL. He always knows where we are sitting. He always sees us up there encouraging him to do what he has to do."

Howard said it was hard to hear when his teammates' parents missed out on their games growing up.

But it makes him more thankful for the sacrifices his parents made to always be there.

The Buccaneers tight end will lineup against the Falcons again in Week 15. This time he gets to face the NFC South squad at 8:30 p.m. on Monday Night Football in Tampa.

Howard said that his 'welcome to the NFL' moments have been courtesy of big-time defenders.

"Going across the middle of the field you have to be ready for big hits," Howard said. "I had a couple of those this season, so it's different. The passes are closer in the NFL than college so everything is in the middle of the field because everybody is closer, so you just gotta be expecting big hits at all times."

One of the big hitters he remembers is Arizona Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones.

"He is a really good defensive end," Howard said. "He leads the league in sacks. Playing against him was tough. He's a player that stands out because he has a great motor and is a really good football player."

When it comes to the Buccaneers, there was one player Howard immediately recognized as the leader: Jameis Winston.

"He's definitely the leader. I saw it before I got to Tampa Bay on TV," Howard said. "The passion he has for the game. But once you get around him and get to know him, you even see it more. He's the first person to get to the facility, the last to leave. He understands the game. He is just the ultimate competitor. This guy hates losing more than he likes to win."

Howard said he models his game after Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez.

"He did it right for so many years," Howard said. "He had so much success in the NFL. Just the way he ran his routes, the way he played in the run game. That's a guy I always looked at and said I want to be just like him."

Kareem said that his son needs to stay humble if he wants to be considered one of the league's best tight ends.

"To stay on the path to greatness, I believe he has to just continue to stay humble, continue to grind and work hard every day, work at his skill," Kareem said. "Basically like he said, everything is in the middle in the NFL. There are going to be some hard hits in the middle of the field. Continue to work on catching the balls in traffic and catching it during contact."

"Just remain humble. Keep working hard."

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