Today, Naesean Howard is sentenced to 10 years in state prison. A little over two years ago he was kicked off the Syracuse football team. But in the spring of ’13, Howard was being compared to some of the all-time greats that played football in CNY.
In March ’13, The Fizz ran a story comparing Howard to the best local football products ever to suit up for the Orange. His West Genesee coach was quoted: “I’ve never had any player attract the attention that he’s gotten. He’s something special… The sky’s the limit with Naes.”
His junior season he racked up more than 1,500 yards and 26 touchdowns. He set goals of 1,800 yards and 30 scores for his senior campaign. But in a slightly eerie interview before he enrolled at SU, he suggested he’d rather play defense because he could be the aggressor.
“If I had a choice, I would want to play defense. When you’re a running back, people are aiming to hit you, but on defense you’re aiming at other people. I love contact.”
He was a top 10 talent in the state, but only was offered by SU and Buffalo. Perhaps other schools had reservations about recruiting him because of a rough background, but it could’ve been because it seemed a foregone conclusion he would land at nearby SU. He called the Orange his “dream school” and never seemed to waver from that during the process.
Howard said the right things about learning from his mistakes, and his coaches continually talked about what a great kid he was (this profile from high school is particularly interesting in retrospect). But his career never got off the ground. Trouble always seemed to follow him. When he was 14, Howard was charged with holding up a man with a pellet gun in the parking lot of a Walmart. He was forced to leave Syracuse after an issue with a tutor, just the final straw in a string of off-field incidents that pushed Scott Shafer over the edge.
He returned to CNY hoping to walk on, but then last spring was the bizarre incident where defensive backs Chauncey Scissum and Corey Winfield were stabbed at party on south campus by Howard. He inauspiciously compared himself to Mike Vick because of the attention he received in his hometown. But he could’ve been talking about a tremendous talent that wasted his opportunity with terrible decision-making.
As we prepare for National Signing Day this week, it’s always worth remembering: What glitters on Wednesday is far from guaranteed to be gold.