By Chris Emma

By Chris Emma—

(CBS) Bears running back Jordan Howard and his late father, Reginald “Doc” Howard, shared NFL dreams together. They believed it would all happen.

It will be 11 years this January that Doc passed away to pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive lung disease that occurs when lung tissue becomes damaged, making it more difficult to breathe and get oxygen into the bloodstream. Jordan was just a kid with big aspirations when he lost his father. Now, he’s a Pro Bowl running back.

“Sadly, he wasn’t able to watch me make it this far,” Howard said of his late father. “But he always told me I’d always be able to go to him. I just try to keep pushing forward.”

The dream shifted for Howard after his father’s passing. The hopes of playing in the NFL remained the same, but he wanted to make a difference with that platform too.

After being drafted by the Bears, Howard became associated with the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, which coincidentally is based out of Chicago. He spoke on the foundation’s behalf and began meeting people that live with the disease, for which there’s no known cure. Last February, Howard matched a $10,000 donation to the foundation, symbolizing the 10 years without his father.

When the NFL began the “My Cleats, My Cause” initiative last year, there was no hesitation for Howard. He wore custom cleats with his father’s name on them and ran through the snow for 117 yards and three touchdowns against the 49ers. On Sunday, he will wear a new set of cleats that will again be auctioned off, with proceeds benefiting the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation.

Howard impacts lives both by raising money to fight the disease and also being there for support.

“It’s just crazy they say I inspire them,” Howard said. “All I’m doing is talking about it and helping raise awareness and more money. It’s very special to me.

“I just knew that if I ever made it to the NFL, I’d be in a position to raise awareness. I have a large platform where people would watch what I did.”

Howard set a Bears rookie rushing record of 1,313 yards last season, bursting onto the scene as one of the league’s premier backs. He earned Pro Bowl honors for the strong rookie campaign and may be line for another trip to Orlando. In 2017, Howard has posted 847 yards and five touchdowns in 11 games.

The cleats Howard will don Sunday are again green and light blue, the colors of the foundation, and feature bowties intermixed with Doc’s name. Howard wears a cut-off T-shirt for every game that has a picture of his father wearing a bowtie.

Just as Howard became a Pro Bowl player for the Bears, he’s a star for the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation as well. The chance to inspire those with the disease that took Doc is another dream come true.

“Being in the position I’m in, you definitely have to take advantage of it and help do good things for other people,” Howard said. “Even though my dad is gone, I can still help raise money for Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation.

“It will be a special feeling again.”

To make a donation to the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation on behalf of Jordan and Doc Howard, click here.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

Watch & Listen LIVE