Second chances are rare in professional sports, especially professional football. When you’re drafted into the NFL, you better make sure you’re ready (and hope that the Cleveland Browns didn’t pick you). If you aren’t ready (or the Cleveland Browns select you), your career in football may be over before it even begins.
Former University of Alabama running back Trent Richardson is trying to be the exception. After becoming the No. 3 overall selection for the Browns, Richardson’s career began its sad dissent into despair.
After brief stints with the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts, Richardson found himself out in the cold with no team to call his own. So, he decided to take his talents to the Canadian Football League, playing for the Saskatchewan Roughriders (where the average temperature is just under 37 degrees, so, you know, literally cold).
It was there with the Roughriders, however, that Richardson found the joy of football again for the first time since his days with the Crimson Tide.
“It was too much fun, man,” said Richardson. “I appreciate the CFL. I appreciate Saskatchewan. The whole team, man, for what they did for me, I can’t never repay them back.”
In Regina, Saskatchewan in Canada, Richardson had nothing to do and no one to hang out with, leaving him with all the time in the world to devote to football.
At first, Richardson was hesitant to leave his family for a country that he doesn’t know with no one that he knows, but after waiting through yet another NFL season without a team even coming close to signing him, Richardson decided to give Canada a shot. After all, Richardson just wants to prove that he still has some gas in the tank.
“A big thing for me going to Canada was to get back on the field with a fresh start,” said Richardson. “Not a lot of people around me…just being not distracted and playing football like I usually play football. It was almost like it was a rebirth.”
Richardson last worked out with the Oakland Raiders, but he hasn’t taken a real NFL handoff since the 2014 season with the Colts. Dedicated to making it back to the league in 2017, Richardson cut 20 pounds to get back to his college weight and did his best to work himself back on a surgically repaired knee. Teams called, or so he claims, but it never resulted in a deal.
“I got a call from a couple teams, and I thought they were going to bring me in,” said Richardson. “They were sitting there telling me, ‘We want to see you back on the field, and if you’re looking good, there will be an offer.’”
So, for Richardson, the CFL was the perfect opportunity to show NFL teams what they were missing out on. With the Roughriders, Richardson averaged 5.4 yards per career, leading the team to a 3-1 record before a knee injury sidelined him. Whether or not the performance was enough to land him a job in the NFL will be more of a wait and see.
“It didn’t matter where I was, I was just trying to get better,” said Richardson. “I want to play ball. I’m playing ball for myself, and I’m happy playing it. I’m not ready to be done with it yet. I know I still got a lot of talent in me. I’m going to keep on trucking.”
And while NFL coaches might not be too hot on Richardson right now, those in Canada had nothing but good things to say about the running back, including his head coach and general manager.
“Once he gets his shoulder pads turned north and south and doesn’t dance in the hole, he’s tough to do business with,” said Roughriders head coach and general manager (I know, right?) Chris Jones. “He’s a great big, strong guy. They don’t really look forward to getting up in the morning and tackling somebody that big.”
Yeah, his head coach and general manager are the same guy, but that doesn’t make the glowing compliment any less meaningful, I think.
Being in Canada has certainly rekindled the football fire for Richardson, who seems to have a newfound focus and drive to make his way back to the NFL. He just wants teams to give him a chance (preferably someone other than the Browns, but he is probably pretty desperate at this point) so he can show that he still has that super-human ability we all saw in college.
“With the NFL, I hope somebody gives me a chance,” said Richardson. “I pray that they do. If they do, man, they going to get the hardest-working guy in the NFL, on the field and off the field.”