Take a second to imagine that you’re 21 years old and a captain of the Stanford football team. You’ve started in two Rose Bowls, and by all accounts, NFL draft experts have you projected to be selected as high as the third round in the upcoming draft (for reference, that’s about a four-year, three million dollar contract coming your way).
It seems safe to assume that most college students (or people in general) in that scenario would be counting down the days until the draft and the lucrative contract that would inevitably follow.
But then again, Jordan Richards has never been like most other student-athletes.
In today’s world of college football, which includes scandals across universities that make people question the “student” aspect of “student-athlete,” it’s incredibly refreshing and inspiring to see Stanford’s defensive leader defy the negative image that has been cast on collegiate athletics.
The 5-foot-11-inch, 210-pound strong safety who wears the #8 jersey with pride on Saturdays has recently been selected as a National Football Foundation (NFF) Scholar-Athlete. The award, which is given to student-athletes who have excelled in academic, athletic and leadership areas, rewards 17 finalists with $18,000 in post-graduate scholarships. On top of this, Richards will join the other finalists in New York on Dec. 9, where the William V. Campbell Trophy and an additional $7,000 in post-graduate scholarships will be awarded to a finalist (former Stanford great Darrin Nelson will also be inducted into the college football Hall of Fame at this ceremony). The prestige of the award is clear from its selectivity, as each university can nominate only one senior student-athlete for the prize. Richard’s selection makes him Stanford’s 12th NFF Scholar-Athlete and the first since Owen Marecic in 2010.
Academic Success and Volunteering
But again, for someone who seems destined for the NFL, will the postgraduate scholarship even be used? On the surface, this question doesn’t seem too unreasonable to ask. Richards, however, cracks a huge smile and begins discussing his future academic aspirations.
“I’m at the point at the end of my senior year where I’d like football to continue but I’m definitely thinking non-football post-graduate plans, and so I plan on when football’s over — whether it’s this year or a couple of years from now — going back to school and getting my master’s in education.”
While at Stanford, Richards has studied public policy, and serves as an undergraduate peer advisor to students interested in learning more about the major. For Richards, it was during his early years that he discovered and fostered a passion for helping others.
“I actually took a couple of sociology classes, and I developed a heart for helping people. I thought a really good opportunity to do this was through public policy,” Richards explained.
Richards has spent his summers helping others throughout the community. For example, he has tutored high school students in East Palo Alto, and this past summer, he worked in Redwood City with first-generation ninth-grade students, helping with tutoring and college preparation. When asked about his desire to help others and where it comes from, Richards reflects on his own experiences and the blessings he’s received.
“For me, I just want to try to make the best opportunities for everyone else. I’ve been blessed to have so many opportunities handed to me and I’ve tried to take advantage of that as much as I can, and I’d like to open up some of those doors for other students.”
Just from talking with Richards, his humility and passion for learning are more than evident. His continued references to his plans to lead and help students in the future genuinely seem to mean more to him than how many pass-deflections or tackles he’s had in the season. Richards understands the opportunity he’s been given to represent Stanford off the football field, and it is clear that he has made the most of all aspects of his time here.
As far as on the football field, Richards knows that the end of his collegiate career will soon be upon him. This year’s Big Game marks the fourth time Richards will have taken part in the rivalry — during his time, Stanford is 3-0 against Cal. The rivalry has special meaning for Richards, who grew up just outside of Sacramento.
“Being from Sacramento, I rooted for Cal. It was the [school] that was closer to my home. I hadn’t been to a Stanford football game until the recruiting process. I had gone to a bunch of Cal games and seen Marshawn Lynch, Jahvid Best, Aaron Rodgers and DeSean Jackson.”
So what made Richards choose Stanford over his childhood team?
“I know it’s cliché, but it really is the best combination of academics and athletics. At that time, our football program was just phenomenal and growing. And ultimately, it was the guys on our team. I just really found my ‘brothers’ so to speak, and I’m just really comfortable with the guys on the team and wanted to be part of this atmosphere.”
This season will be the final time that Richards takes on Cal as a member of the Stanford team. When asked about the rivalry and how it has evolved over his time on the Farm, Richards had the following to offer:
“Four years ago, Cal was a team that was in the middle-ground in the Pac-12, and we’ve been successful against them the past three years. Last year, obviously, they struggled a lot, but this year is a totally new team and they’ve been playing very well. It’s exciting; it’s nice to have that rivalry back in full swing.”
For all of Richards’ success on the field, it is clear that there is a bright future awaiting him when he decides to retire the cleats — whether that is after this season or after an NFL career. When asked about what his plans are after he uses the scholarship money from the NFF for a master’s in education, Richards talked about wanting to teach.
“After a master’s, I’d like to get my teaching credential and start in the classroom. That’s something I’m really excited about. And from there, maybe go into administration. I don’t know yet, but I definitely want to start with teaching and try my hand at that.”
Richards, who was also named to the Lott IMPACT Trophy watch list, embodies excellence both on and off the field. Regardless of whether he is ultimately awarded the William V. Campbell trophy or whether Stanford becomes bowl eligible this season, Richards has set an example that all student-athletes should strive to match.
Contact Shawn Tuteja at sstuteja ‘at’ stanford.edu.