This is the cover story of the November 3 issue ofGameday Magazine,which can be found at the Lincoln Financial Field Pro Shop as well as Philadelphia-area ACME supermarkets this weekend.
The year is 2013. The University of Alabama at Birmingham football team is looking to bounce back from a less-than-stellar 3-9 season the previous year.
The Blazers have multiple talented running backs, but their newest has it all. This player has speed, power, agility, intelligence, pretty much everything running backs coach Eric Evans would want out of a newcomer.
This running back was Jordan Howard, an all-state honorable mention from the tiny town of Gardendale, Alabama.
Evans recognized Howard's talent, but thought one key ingredient was missing: Anger. So one day, Evans challenged his new ballcarrier to "get mad." Howard's response to Evans' request for unabashed emotion: Nothing.
"That's not me," Howard said. "I'm not doing that. That's not going to work for me."
Despite his mostly quiet demeanor, Howard has made a lot of noise during his football career. He gained nearly 4,000 rushing yards in college and reached the 1,000-yard mark in two of his first three NFL seasons.
When Howard lowers his shoulder to run through a defender, the familiar sound of pads colliding is all you need to hear from him. It is the former Pro Bowl back's way of expressing himself without even saying a word.
Since entering the league in 2016, Howard is second in the league in rushing yards behind only Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott. He opened the 2019 season fourth in rushing touchdowns since 2017, trailing only Gurley, Mark Ingram, and Alvin Kamara.
Because Howard has accomplished so much during his brief NFL career, he has become one of the de facto leaders among the Eagles' running backs. Does that mean he's become more of a "rah-rah" guy? Nope.
Instead, he leads by example. Fortunately for the Eagles, Howard sets a great one for the other running backs to follow.
"He shows up every single day ready to work," Boston Scott says. "It doesn't matter what's going on. He's going to show up every single day and he's going to work."
Howard admits that while he's a little shy, he's mostly a reserved person who is in no rush to open up to people he doesn't know that well. How long does it take to know him before he opens up?
"It's pretty much how I have been all my life," he says. "It kind of takes me a while to warm up to people. Even when I do, I still don't talk that much, so you got to know me for like years to get me to talk a lot."
Quarterback Nate Sudfeld has known Howard going back to their days as teammates at Indiana. When Howard first arrived after transferring from UAB (the Blazers' program was shut down following the 2014 season) he was his usual quiet, unassuming self.
Once he got on the field, his play spoke volumes. Between Indiana and UAB, Howard ran for 3,681 yards, scored 24 rushing touchdowns, and averaged 5.7 yards per carry.
"He wasn't raising eyebrows crazily until the first game," Sudfeld says. "Once you get him some carries, you're like, 'Holy cow, this guy is unbelievable!'"
After sharing the same backfield, Howard warmed up to Sudfeld and the two have been close friends ever since. Howard even lived with Sudfeld after the Eagles acquired him from Chicago in a trade during the offseason, meaning Sudfeld has probably heard Howard speak more than anyone on the team.
"Man, this dude doesn't talk at all at the facility, but he doesn't want to stop talking at home," Sudfeld says jokingly.
"He's impressive," Sudfeld adds. "He's confident in who he is. He knows who he is. He's really close to his mom (Flora). She's awesome. She's been there for him. It's really cool to see. He's got some great mentors in his life. He's just a quality human being and a great football player. He's just a pleasure to be around and it's a pleasure to call him one of my really good friends."
Howard's fellow running backs are not offended by Howard's lack of verbal communication. They understand that is simply who he is. They're fine with watching how he works. For young backs like Scott and rookie Miles Sanders, watching Howard every day provides a great example of how to be a productive back in the National Football League.
"You don't see him making too many mistakes and that's kind of what I'm trying to get off of him," Sanders says.
Away from the field, you may not get a lot from Howard in the way of words, but he offers so much more. For football fans, he offers many examples as to why he has been a standout running back since he entered the league. One being his consistency, as he is one of only two running backs (Elliott being the other) to have gained at least 900 yards in each of the last three seasons. Off the field, he offers leadership and professionalism that is lauded by his peers.
"I love being around him," Scott says. "I love having conversations with him and I can already tell he's going to be a good friend down the road. It's going to be much bigger than football."
"As a leader, he's just always gone about his business the right way," Sudfeld says. "He's intelligent and understands his job and does it at a high level. He actually keeps himself and holds himself to a really high standard."