Jaleel Richardson isn’t the most well-known player on the Southern football team, but he makes big plays when the Jaguars need it most.
Richardson set up Southern’s game-winning field goal against Alabama State last season with a 64-yard punt return to the Hornets’ 28-yard line. Last week, he returned a kick 97 yards for a touchdown to put Southern up 33-7 against Jackson State.
Richardson’s first touchdown was an 86-yard return of the opening kickoff against Jackson State on Sept. 22, 2012.
What made the touchdown even more memorable for him was the timing. Sept. 22 is his father’s birthday, and his father died during his sophomore year at Warren Easton High School.
Richardson started playing football during his junior year in high school, and every time he plays football, or does anything else, he says he does it for his father.
“He never got to see me play football,” Richardson said. “He didn’t see me graduate high school. He didn’t see me graduate college. That’s just my why every day. In certain situations, I wish I had a daddy, but I just knew I had to make him proud. So every Saturday anybody asks me who I play for, that’s my reason why.”
In May, Richardson became the first college graduate in his immediate family and received an undergraduate degree in criminal justice. He’s now working toward his master’s degree in criminal justice with a goal of working for the FBI.
Richardson had an interest in being a juvenile probation officer in Louisiana, but more recently decided to lean toward federal law enforcement for more opportunities.
“A lot of the people in my neighborhood didn’t have the same mindset and a way of thinking to do better,” he said. “At first I wanted to do juvenile probation work to get juveniles to think and understand it’s not always about being in the streets and you can get out of the situation that you’re in right now. You just have to want to.”
Richardson doesn’t have the schedule of a typical college athlete. Around 7:30 a.m. or 8 a.m., he goes to work at Advanced Auto Parts until 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. At 3:30 p.m., he heads to pre-practice meetings before practice until at about 6 p.m.
After practice he goes to class until 9 p.m. He said he gets five or six hours of sleep each night.
He’s made a lot of moves throughout his football career. He went from receiver to defensive back, then found a consistent position with special teams where he returns kicks, blocks on punt returns and covers kickoffs.
Special teams coach Marty Biagi said although Richardson is the most visible on kickoff returns, he’s a big contributor on other special teams units.
Theredshirt senior didn’t play until his redshirt sophomore season, but now he’s a team captain and a starter on three of the four special teams units. The transition of starting in high school to redshirting in college didn’t negatively effect him, he said. Richardson just patiently waited for the chance to prove himself.
His parents always taught him to learn his role, do his part, worry about himself and everything else will take care of itself.
“No matter what coach calls up on me to do, I just have to do that to the best of my ability,” he said. “I’m just one of 11. I just have to have respect and faith in my teammates to know that he’s going to do what they’re coached to do. I’m going to do my job and they’re going to do their jobs and that’s how things are going to get done.”