The University of Connecticut football team has been named the winner of the 2009 FedEx Orange Bowl-Football Writers Association of America Courage Award. The Huskies persevered throughout the 2009 season after the tragic death of starting cornerback Jasper Howard.
The award will be presented at Orange Bowl festivities, including the annual coaches’ luncheon Jan. 4 and at the game Jan. 5.
“The entire University of Connecticut football family is very honored to receive the FedEx Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award,” said UConn coach Randy Edsall. “Jasper Howard will always live in our thoughts and memories. I am very proud of my team and the way they responded to the tragedy of Jasper’s death. Their perseverance both on and off the playing field was incredibly strong and a tribute to the type of student-athlete we have here in our football program here at UConn.”
Howard, a 20-year-old junior, died in the early morning of Oct. 18, just hours after UConn’s homecoming win over Louisville, after he was stabbed after a campus-sponsored dance. The Huskies lost three emotional games following Howard’s death – to West Virginia and Rutgers by identical scores of 28-24, after holding the lead late, and 47-45 at Cincinnati.
“It still doesn’t seem real,” senior receiver Marcus Easley said after the loss to West Virginia, six days after Howard’s death. “It’s hard to believe we were suiting up for a game without him.”
“I just feel empty,” Edsall said after the West Virginia game. “The kids played their hearts out and did what we asked them to do. They did a great job but came up a little short. I know ‘Jazz’ is proud of their effort.” Two days after the loss to West Virginia, the entire team traveled to attend Howard’s funeral in his hometown of Miami.
But the Huskies, whose five losses were by a combined 15 points, finished the year with three straight wins – including a double-overtime win over Notre Dame on Nov. 21 and a 29-27 win over South Florida on Dave Teggart’s field goal on the final play.
UConn will play South Carolina in the Papajohns.com Bowl on Jan. 2.
The Courage Award was created by ESPN The Magazine’s senior writer Gene Wojciechowski, also a FWAA member. The Football Writers Association of America and the FedEx Orange Bowl announce a weekly nominee each Wednesday during the season, and a select group of writers from the FWAA votes on the winner each year. The criteria for nomination include displaying courage on or off the field, including overcoming an injury or physical handicap, preventing a disaster, or living through hardship.
The Orange Bowl Committee is a not-for-profit, primarily volunteer organization that supports and produces activities and events that enhance the image, economy, and culture of South Florida. The Orange Bowl Festival features year-round events culminating with the FedEx Orange Bowl.
The Football Writers Association of America comprises more than 1,100 men and women who cover college football for a living. The membership includes journalists, broadcasters, and publicists, as well as key executives in all the areas that involve the game.