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Former Buckeye and his mother talk about life growing up, playing football and the importance of character

~ by Leah Abouahmed, OhioStateBuckeyes.com 


Former Buckeye and Columbus native Jay Richardson is now the starting defensive end for the Oakland Raiders. Living in California is just another place on a long list of areas Richardson has called home. He was born in Washington D.C., lived on Guam for two years, resided in Virginia for three years and settled in Columbus where he played football and basketball for Dublin Scioto High School.

Although Richardson has experienced a change of scenery five times in his 25 years, one thing that has remained a strong and steady constant in his life is his mother’s love.

Deborah Johnson was born in Cleveland and grew up a Buckeye fan. She attended Ohio State, where she played rugby and graduated in 1979. It was her influence that helped Richardson decide to continue his football career at Ohio State.

Early on, the two formed a strong bond while Johnson was working as a presidential intern in the nation’s capital. Richardson was only 2-years-old when Johnson relocated to Guam. There, she would bring her toddler with her to the office and the base.

“We’re very close,” Johnson said. “I always respect the mother-child relationship so I’m not going to say he was my buddy, but we were so close. Jay and I did so much together. When I had company dinners, Jay went with us in his little suit.”

Mothers play a huge part in most people’s lives. They help us form our ethical framework. They try to teach us all we need to know to make our own decisions.

Johnson’s boys (Richardson has two younger brothers, a 19-year-old who is a linebacker at Kansas University, and a 16-year-old, who at one point ran his own cheesecake business) were always her first priority. When asked to be in organizations, Johnson always made sure her well-behaved children would be able to accompany her.

Now with three years of NFL experience under him, Richardson, along with his mother, has learned the business side of sports. They see the differences of being a Buckeye, where teammates are brothers, to being a Raider, where teammates are co-workers. Both realize football is something that could come and go, but it is a person’s character that has the everlasting impression.

“How you’re perceived is sometimes more important than how you are,” Richardson said. “My mother always taught me to stay on the right path and stay focused. She taught me to always look someone in the eye when you’re talking to them and to treat people the right way.”

A proud moment came for Johnson when she was grocery shopping and a young lady approached her and asked if she was Jay Richardson’s mom. She said yes and the girl went on to tell a story of when she was a freshman in high school and Richardson was a senior. A few students were giving her a hard time and Richardson approached the young men. He told them to stop and that what they were doing wasn’t right. The girl told Johnson she would never forget that.

Although Richardson is the most independent of her three boys, Johnson’s home in Columbus provided a place for her eldest to retreat from campus life while at Ohio State. He would stop over and pick up food and spend time with the family.

Not only did Richardson find a place in his mother’s home to get away, but other players did as well. When Richardson was a redshirt, Johnson would have her son and other redshirts over to watch the away games. Other players also found comfort at Johnson’s house.

Troy Smith came over one day and he said it is so good to be someplace where no one wants his autograph and no one wants to talk about football,” Johnson said. “He said he could just chill for a minute.”

Johnson is an ordained minister and her ministry is sports parenting. She is a Buckeye fan, but she knows the importance of being a parent first. She mentors parents on always having their child’s best interest.

“Understand that this is just a piece of who your kid is,” Johnson said. “You’re not a fan, you’re a parent. Listen to your child. Sometimes you have to sit on your hands and let your kids do their thing.”

And that is what Richardson is doing out in California his own thing and his mother could not be more proud.