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Jeff Richards long journey to the NFL

Jeff Richards, who is from Del City, practices with the Los Angeles Chargers on Friday. [PHOTO BY MIKE NOWAK, Courtesy The Los Angeles Chargers]

Jeff Richards, who is from Del City, practices with the Los Angeles Chargers on Friday. [PHOTO BY MIKE NOWAK, Courtesy The Los Angeles Chargers]

Jeff Richards Jr. boarded a plane back home to Oklahoma City last Sunday feeling dejected and contemplating his future in professional football after being cut by the Carolina Panthers.

The former Del City Eagle had worked hard to get a shot in the NFL, playing in the Arena League and the Canadian Football League, before signing in January with the Carolina Panthers as an undrafted rookie free agent.

Richards, 26, played in four preseason games for the Panthers and thought he had done enough to make the team, even intercepting Jacksonville's Blake Bortles on a two-point conversion to help preserve a 24-23 Carolina win.

But when Carolina had to make the final roster cut to 53 players to start the season, Richards didn't make it.

“What more could I have done?” Richards asked himself.

His mood changed before he landed in Oklahoma City. On the plane, Richards learned from a tweet that the Los Angeles Chargers had claimed him off waivers.

Now, Richards may get the chance to play in his first regular season game in the NFL Monday night when the Chargers travel to Denver. Richards said he is currently on the Chargers' special teams and expects to be in uniform Monday night.

“It's going to be something else,” Richards said in a phone interview with The Oklahoman on Saturday.

Richards' story is one of never giving up on your dreams. Or, as Richards prefers to call it, always keep working toward your dreams.

Richards' father, Jeff Richards Sr. of Del City, said his son was always good in sports as a kid, but was small. The younger Richards didn't even start at Del City his first two years of high school, but he had a tremendous growth spurt the summer before his senior season, getting taller and gaining weight.

“I grew like six inches over the summer,” he said.

He started as a defensive back for the Eagles his senior year and earned a scholarship to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M junior college in Miami. He played two seasons for the Norsemen before going to Emporia State, Kansas, where he started 14 games, making 84 tackles and intercepting five passes.

Richards didn't get drafted after his college career had ended and he took a job as a graduate assistant at Emporia State where his duties included breaking down film, setting the field up for practice and running study hall for the players.

“All the scrub work,” Richards said.

During his time as a graduate assistant, Richards continued to pursue his dream of playing professional football.

“I worked every day, literally,” Richards said. “Every day I did something getting ready. I worked out every day like that call was coming… I wasn't going to sit around and wait for it. I was always continuing forward, trying to figure out what the next move would be.”

Richards eventually got a tryout with the Spokane Shock of the Arena League, but the team cut him in training camp only to bring him back a month later.

He played in eight games for the Spokane Shock in 2015 and tried out but was rejected by both the Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers, before signing with the Ottawa Redblacks of the Canadian Football League.

He was a reserve defensive back for the Redblacks, playing three games in 2015 and 10 games last season as Ottawa was the Grey Cup champions.

Richards thought he was going to be in a Carolina Panthers' uniform this season until a week ago. He was surprised to be cut by the Panthers and surprised again when the Chargers claimed him.

He spent the past week with the Chargers learning their system.

“My plan is to come in and crack this lineup,” Richards said. “Right now, I have got some Pro Bowl corners in front of me. I just plan to help, however that works. I am versatile. Wherever they feel the need to put me, I am going to give it my all.”

Richard expects to be on the field Monday night, playing special teams.

“It's a long time coming,” Richards said of his journey to the NFL. “I feel like I belong.”

Richards plans to fly his parents to the game in Denver Monday night. He also will have a large contingent of family and friends cheering him from Oklahoma City.

“I got a lot of support in the city, a lot of people rooting for me,” he said.

Related Photos
<p>Del City's Jeff Richards, right, intercepts a ball intended for former Tulsa University standout Keyarris Garrett, left, during a Carolina Panthers practice in August. [AP PHOTO]</p>

Del City's Jeff Richards, right, intercepts a ball intended for former Tulsa University standout Keyarris Garrett, left, during a Carolina Panthers practice in August. [AP PHOTO]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-e5c86e6da62dc646c942d550da33ca14.jpg" alt="Photo - Del City's Jeff Richards, right, intercepts a ball intended for former Tulsa University standout Keyarris Garrett, left, during a Carolina Panthers practice in August. [AP PHOTO] " title=" Del City's Jeff Richards, right, intercepts a ball intended for former Tulsa University standout Keyarris Garrett, left, during a Carolina Panthers practice in August. [AP PHOTO] "><figcaption> Del City's Jeff Richards, right, intercepts a ball intended for former Tulsa University standout Keyarris Garrett, left, during a Carolina Panthers practice in August. [AP PHOTO] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-0c2502f0cb96dadd36a7fe088ec541f5.jpg" alt="Photo - Del City native Jeff Richards, center, intercepts a 2-point conversion pass intended for Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Neal Sterling (87) as Carolina safety Dezmen Southward (37) comes in to help during a preseason game in late August. [AP PHOTO] " title=" Del City native Jeff Richards, center, intercepts a 2-point conversion pass intended for Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Neal Sterling (87) as Carolina safety Dezmen Southward (37) comes in to help during a preseason game in late August. [AP PHOTO] "><figcaption> Del City native Jeff Richards, center, intercepts a 2-point conversion pass intended for Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Neal Sterling (87) as Carolina safety Dezmen Southward (37) comes in to help during a preseason game in late August. [AP PHOTO] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-c1b6feee41626d16aa71657c6a12e62f.jpg" alt="Photo - Jeff Richards, who is from Del City, practices with the Los Angeles Chargers on Friday. [PHOTO BY MIKE NOWAK, Courtesy The Los Angeles Chargers] " title=" Jeff Richards, who is from Del City, practices with the Los Angeles Chargers on Friday. [PHOTO BY MIKE NOWAK, Courtesy The Los Angeles Chargers] "><figcaption> Jeff Richards, who is from Del City, practices with the Los Angeles Chargers on Friday. [PHOTO BY MIKE NOWAK, Courtesy The Los Angeles Chargers] </figcaption></figure>
Ed Godfrey

Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more... Read more ›

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