Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard is a mentor on a mission in the Fifth Ward

Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard is a mentor on a mission in the Fifth Ward

Don’t tell Xavien Howard what he shouldn’t be, or can’t do.

He isn’t one to listen to such negatives.

Howard has regularly turned doubters into believers, by following his own path and believing in himself. That’s a significant part of the message he shared with a group of youngsters at his first football camp on Saturday morning.

And where else would a Fifth Ward-grown, Houston proud, NFL player hold such a camp, but at his high school, in his neighborhood?

Note, that isn’t the third-year Miami Dolphin’s former high school or old neighborhood.

Howard is Wheatley, through and through, and will always represent Fifth Ward proudly. An example of what one who puts in hard work should be and can do.

‘You can still succeed’

His story of success — which is far from over, and just in its early stages — is the type that doesn’t garner as much attention as the negative portrayals that tend to lead the news and are in many ways glamorized.

“I hope kids at the camp grab some motivation that they can do it, no matter what you’re going through, what situation you’re in, what you’re being told, you can still succeed,” Howard said. “I had a lot of homeboys who got caught up on the wrong path.

“It is easy to be influenced by what is perceived as the cool thing to do. I want these kids to see me, coming from where they are from, with what they have and don’t have, and see that they can be different. Do something different than people expect. That’s what’s cool.”

What’s cool is being able to want something different for his family and being able to realize that dream.

Howard, who turns 25 this week, was a second-round pick of the Dolphins in the 2016 draft (No. 38 overall). He is poised to have a breakout year that could lead to a huge contract.

Few predicted he would be in this position when he was a little-used receiver as a high school sophomore, who didn’t even play football as a freshman. Or when he was a reserve cornerback, who had only five tackles as a redshirt sophomore at Baylor.

But there is a hint of what he is all about in his NFL.com draft profile, which was written by NFL Network contributor and ESPN 97.5’s Lance Zierlein.

What does Howard do when battling a receiver for an incoming pass?

“Scrapes, claws, scratches, clubs and tears.”

Yep, that sounds like Wheatley and Fifth Ward. And Howard.

He battled through a difficult rookie year during which he had two knee surgeries.

He was first injured on the last day of a June minicamp, and spent most of the preseason in rehab, then returned to start the first four games of the season before suffering another injury to the same knee, which caused him to miss the next nine games.

Film study wasn’t required in high school and wasn’t critical in college, as the Big 12 offenses he faced were high-powered, but not too sophisticated.

“Its football, you know what you can do, so you don’t want to make it too complicated,” Howard said. “The NFL is mostly mental, not as much physical as I thought.

“There are older guys who can’t run like they used to, but they’re always in the right place. You have to study to be in the right place.”

That study led to a comfort that finally allowed Howard’s ability to show late last season.

In Week 13, he had two interceptions against the Denver Broncos, including one he returned 30 yards for a touchdown on a play that he says he read from before the snap thanks to a deeper understanding of what to look for.

The next week, with the Dolphins wearing throwback uniforms of the unbeaten ’72 Super Bowl champions, Howard picked off Tom Brady twice to help the 11-point underdogs pull off a 27-20 upset on “Monday Night Football.”

Just getting started

In many ways, Howard is just getting started.

With basketball being his favorite sport, he didn’t get serious about football until he was moved from reserve receiver to quarterback as junior. He saw little action on defense, but was inserted into the secondary in a playoff game against Waltrip and had two interceptions.

The next year, he had nine interceptions and was a Class 4A first-team all-state pick.

Howard put all of his two-way skills on display in a playoff loss to Angleton in 2011, with one of the most impressive all-around performances in playoff history. He rushed for 185 yards and two touchdowns, threw for 245 yards and two more touchdowns, and added two interceptions returns for scores.

“I still have a lot of room to grow,” he said. “Where I am now is far beyond where I was. I’m excited to see where I’ll continue to grow.”

His high school advisers and coaches say Howard was never consumed by the trappings of street success that lead so many teenagers — rural, suburban and urban — to make bad choices. He preferred to stay quiet and focused, expecting good things from maximum effort.

That is what he passed along Saturday to the campers, including his younger brother Keith Collins, who is entering his senior year at Wheatley.

Like Howard, Collins is also a basketball and football player with serious potential. He is smooth and athletic, and taller than his older brother.

Howard thinks direct mentoring for players like his little brother can make a difference. It’s not about getting others to follow his footsteps, so much as helping them to be aware of steps not to take.

“I don’t want him or anyone to follow the wrong steps in life, because it’s easy to do,” Howard said. “And it’s hard to find your way out of those situations.

“I’m not special. What I have done, can be done. They need to see that, they need to know that, they need to hear it.

“It’s easier to influence the people you’re around. That’s what this camp is all about.”

That is why Howard’s camp was in Fifth Ward. At Wheatley. At home.

jerome.solomon@chron.com

twitter.com/jeromesolomon

 

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