Overcoming the odds

Photo source: KALB
Photo source: KALB(KALB)
Published: Jun. 23, 2019 at 8:08 PM CDT
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It’s always had a funny name.

The open field down from legendary Bringhurst Field, adjacent to community ball-parks in the center of Alexandria, that is.

“Big Island.”

The name makes sense. It’s an isolated, open patch of land that runs several acres, smack in the middle of the city. Other than some picnic tables on the outskirts, there’s nothing polluting the majority of the field.

The perfect place for a game of football.

The perfect place for a young kid to spend his weekends and afternoons honing a craft that would carry him to the NFL.

The perfect place to start the Jalen Richard story.

More than a game

Playing on weekends in the fall, the AAA football league carried on from late September through it’s All-Star weekend at the beginning of December. Playing games at “Big Island”, kids from across Cenla would gather, getting their first taste of organized football.

Including Richard.

Fast forward eight years, and Richard’s weekends at Big Island wouldn’t be spent in pads, but instead on the ladder. Footwork training. Running routes. Catching passes. The place where his football career began became the backdrop to where the hard work that would carry him to the next level would continue.

Richard always seemed to work harder than others. He had to.

An ACL tear in high school derailed his senior season. It also pulled larger D-I schools away from him. But, there was a reason Richard was drawing attention from the nation’s best to begin with. One look at his tape was all one needed to see how dynamic he was on the football field.

Southern Miss snatched him away when other schools grew hesitant.

That investment paid dividends for the Golden Eagles.

Despite fighting a number of serious injuries through his collegiate career, Richard’s senior season saw him rack up almost 1400 yards from scrimmage with 16 touchdowns.

Again, if Richard wanted to continue playing at the next level, the odds were against him.

An invite to the Oakland Raiders rookie camp would be the perfect opportunity to do what he had been doing for years: proving people wrong.

And proving that, once again, hard work trumps all.

That three-day tryout has blossomed into a three-year career with the Raiders, one that will continue with the team after they recently resigned him.

A wild year

After the conclusion of his second football skills camp, Richard is losing his voice. His enthusiasm is infectious, and through his cracking laughter, you can see how much he genuinely cares about Alexandria.

“I never let anything stand in my way,” Richard said, reflecting on times where he stood on the street corner, trying to raise money to go to football camps.

Richard’s hope is that his camp will give kids in Cenla opportunities that he never had. It's evident that his camp is accomplishing just that.

Richard isn’t done there, though. He held a youth rally at the Alexandria Mall, where his message is simple: through hard work, anyone can accomplish their dreams.

Back in January, Richard himself lived through a dream, as his alma mater honored him by retiring his number and hanging a banner in the rafters of the gym.

“Surreal doesn’t begin to describe it, man. This whole past year.”

Becoming a father, watching himself become immortalized at Peabody, and walking across the stage at the spring commencement at Southern Miss: A busy year, indeed.

“I’ve been blessed, man. I wake up every day and it’s like a dream,” says Richard. “I’m just trying to continue to work hard and prove to myself I’m not taking any of it for granted.”

It’s not in Richard’s DNA to slow down or become complacent. That’s why he’s found success at every level of his football career. It’s also why he’s found success down every avenue of his life. For Richard, every day is another opportunity to prove himself right and his doubters wrong.

And Richard never wastes an opportunity.

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