Thomas Howard, one of the greatest linebackers ever to wear a UTEP jersey, died earlier this morning from injuries sustained in an automobile accident in Oakland, California. Howard was only 30 years old. According to a news report from KTVU television, Howard was driving a BMW on Highway 880 when he lost control of his vehicle and rear ended a semi. The BMW spun out of control and hurled over a center divider before colliding with a Honda CRV. Both vehicles disintegrated on impact and Howard and the driver of the CRV died at the scene.

“The BMW was traveling northbound at a high rate of speed,” California Highway Patrol Sargent Robert Cullinan told KTVU. “It rear-ended a big rig, rolled over several times, bouncing over the center divider wall and collided head-on with the CRV in the other lane.”

UTEP Director of Athletics Bob Stull remembered Howard as one of the best players in the program's history both on and off the field. “It is shocking and very sad,” Stull said. “His story was inspiring. He came here as a walk-on defensive back and through hard work and dedication developed into one of the greatest linebackers in school history. He was enjoying a tremendous NFL career."

“More than anything, though, Thomas was a fine young man, personable and engaging. He always had a smile on his face. He returned to El Paso frequently and was always eager to give back to UTEP. He was a superb alum and friend of the university. It’s just hard to believe that he’s gone. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

Howard tallied 296 tackles in 48 games for the Miners. He ranks third in school history in tackles for losses (34), and tied for seventh in sacks (13). He was a member of UTEP’s 2004 Houston Bowl and 2005 GMAC Bowl teams. He was selected in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders and spent five seasons with the Silver and Black. Following his career with the Raiders, Howard played for the Bengals in 2011-12 and two games this season for the Atlanta Falcons.

I conducted numerous interviews with him over the years, and will always remember his smile, calm demeanor, and love for people. Howard never shied away from an autograph or a chance to take a picture with a Miner fan. I emceed his first-ever Foundation dinner and banquet at Coronado Country Club last March and remember how nervous he was as he was preparing his speech. As soon as he walked up to the podium, any sign of nervousness was gone and he handled it like a true professional. Over the past two years, Howard's foundation had given two scholarships to a pair of walk-on UTEP student athletes.