Shortly after his arrival in Foxborough from the suburbs of Washington, D.C., in the summer of 2011, Kiivone Howard made it a priority to contact head football coach Jack Martinelli.
In the 12-plus months since, the Warrior football program has helped change his life and he, in turn, has changed the team with his talent and leadership skills.
The senior cocaptain puts his heart and soul into every play on the gridiron. Since joining Martinelli’s program, he has harnessed his energy, focusing on improving as a student-athlete.
While he was living with his mother, Harriet, in Seat Pleasant, Md., his grade point average was below 1.0. Lacking motivation, he didn’t have much interest in school and hung around peers who negatively influenced his decisions.
His mother decided it was time for her son to move to Foxborough to live with his father, Steve, hoping that it would be a more stable environment.
Howard had played freshman football at Archbishop Carroll in Washington, D.C., and earned a spot on the varsity as a sophomore. He was primarily a safety on defense, and also saw time as a kicker.
On offense, he started out at receiver, but his running skills could not be ignored.
“Last season I played receiver, but running plays, not a lot of catching,” said Howard. “I feel like the coaches felt I’d be better playing running back, and I talked to coach over the summer. He said we could try it out, and everything’s been good so far.”
Every coach in the Hockomock League now has a scouting report on No. 22 for Foxborough.
“He’s one of the best backs that we’ve faced in two years, so he’s definitely a good player,” said Mike Driscoll, after his Whitman-Hanson squad pulled out a 21-20 nonleague win at Foxborough on Friday night, despite three touchdowns from Howard.
“He’s unmatched as a running back, and he’s one of the top players on our team,” said Martinelli.
In three games, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Howard has rushed for 510 yards and nine touchdowns, matching his TD total from last season. And he is not far off from matching his rushing total (651 yards) from last season.
His fast start can be attributed, in part, to an offseason devoted to running. He had never run track before, but last winter, he competed in the 55 and 800 meters indoors, and the 100, 200, and 400 outdoors last spring.
In the summer, he worked out in the weight room at the high school three days per week, and rode his bike around town to maintain his leg strength.
He also credits the Warrior coaching staff, Martinelli in particular, for their support system.
“Coach really shows love for his players,” said Howard of Martinelli, now in his 31st season at the helm of the program.
“Not a lot of coaches are like that. A lot of coaches are just there to play football. Coach Martinelli is there for both sides, the football team and outside of the football team.”
A team that shares a strong bond is easy to lead, and Howard describes the Warriors as a brotherhood.
“I love everybody on my team,” said Howard. “It’s great playing with them, and I can’t wait to see how the season is going to turn out.”
When Howard isn’t on the field or hanging out with friends, he’s focusing on Islamic prayer and his academics.
In a more stable environment, Howard has lifted his GPA from below 1.0 to 2.4. But he acknowledges that he still has work to do to prepare for college.
“My grades have improved a lot,” said Howard. “Back home they weren’t that good and now I still have a lot of work to do, but it’s definitely gotten better.”
Howard would like to play football at the next level, and has received interest from Division 1 programs such as Bryant University and University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“He’s a very special kid, and he’s done a complete turnaround in terms of his grades,” said Martinelli.
Foxborough (2-1) will play undefeated North Attleborough (3-0) at home Friday night.
“We’ve been playing hard all summer,’’ said Howard, “and we deserve to make it to the playoffs [in Division 3], if not the Super Bowl.”
Ryan strives to get kick out of game
Whitman-Hanson has started the season with three straight wins, including a 39-24 win over Mansfield in Week 2.
But senior kicker Chris Ryan was not pleased with his effort against the Hornets. While his teammates celebrated the win, he was back at the field, working on his extra-point attempts.
Ryan had missed two point-afters during the game and was not letting himself off the hook.
His self-discipline paid off against Foxborough. His three extra-point kicks were beautifully executed right through the middle. And Foxborough failed to convert a game-tying attempt in the fourth quarter.
Ryan is on the football team for the first time this season; he had played soccer until this year.
“He’s an outstanding kicker,” said Driscoll. “After he missed those kicks, that was all him by himself, just going down there to get better, and he’s just been practicing and practicing every day. He’s got a great leg. He’s made 50-yard field goals in practice. He’s a great addition to the team, and he’s one of the strongest players on the team.”
Driscoll has no doubts that in Friday’s game against Pembroke, Ryan will make every kick.
“He just had a little bit of a tweak in his foot, a long step,” said Driscoll. “We noticed, and he just wanted to make sure he had it down, and that’s why he was down there kicking.”Coryn Doncaster can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.