FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- On the morning of his first professional start, New England Patriots cornerback Darius Butler awoke to a swarm of calls and text messages alerting him to the horrifying news that a college teammate and close friend had died after being stabbed on campus early Sunday morning.
Jasper Howard, 20, of Miami, and another University of Connecticut student were stabbed during a fight after a fire alarm was pulled during a school-sanctioned dance at the Student Union just after 12:30 a.m., police said. Butler and Howard were cornerbacks for the Huskies last season.
Butler said they talked on the phone Saturday evening after Howard, a junior, helped UConn to a 38-25 victory over Louisville.
"I had a lot of missed calls, a lot of text messages," said a somber Butler after the Patriots' 59-0 thrashing of the Tennessee Titans. "That's how I got the news this morning, when I woke up at the [Patriots'] hotel.
"My thoughts and prayers go out to Jasper's family and friends. It hasn't really settled in. It's nothing I'm ready to talk about yet. Obviously it's tough. Jasper and I were close."
Butler, who has appeared in five games for New England this season, started at cornerback for the Patriots on Sunday. He didn't register a tackle, but came up with the first interception of his career, picking off a Kerry Collins pass in the second quarter to set up a Patriots touchdown.
Butler was asked if Howard was on his mind Sunday.
"Here and there," Butler said. "I definitely was able to focus on the game. But, obviously, something that serious is also in the back of my mind."
And Butler used Howard as inspiration to stay focused on the game.
"I know how much he loved the game," Butler said. "So I didn't let it affect my game negatively."
Butler, one of the Patriots' four second-round picks (41st overall) in April's draft, has registered four tackles and one interception through six games. After appearing primarily as a nickel corner earlier in the year, he was bumped up to a starting role Sunday.
Butler said his teammates rallied around him, which helped him carry on.
"It meant a lot that they supported me," Butler said. "It was my first interception, so it was a big one. And obviously it meant a little more to me because of the news that happened last night."
But that doesn't mean he's come to grips with the news.
"It is shocking," Butler said. "It's a tough situation, especially on a college campus. You go to school for an education and something like that happens. It's terrible."
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.