FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Sheldon Richardson cradled the baby in his arms and kissed her cheek.
There in the delivery room, the Jets defensive tackle’s life took another turn. But this time, Richardson was filled with indescribable joy.
Though he couldn’t put the moment into words, laying eyes on his daughter, Riley Rose Richardson, is a moment he’ll never forget.
“I was there,” he told Newsday. “I’m looking at her, looking at the surgery going on and I’m like, ‘You feel none of this? You have to feel this,’ ” he recalled, with a smile. “It was a crazy moment. But when I saw my daughter’s head pop out, it was just a humbling feeling.”
Richardson was excused from training camp starting on July 28 -- his daughter was born at 4:35 p.m. the same day -- and he missed the first four practices before returning to work on Tuesday.
He was determined to be there for his daughter’s birth. And nothing could have prepared him for the life-altering event.
“I told her, ‘I hate to tell you, but I’m your pops,’ ” he said laughingly. “And that was that, really. I just looked at her and kissed her on her cheek.”
Now that he’s back to work, he’s focused on helping the Jets’ defense dominate the competition. But in the midst of his excitement for the upcoming season, a cloud still hangs over Richardson.
The NFL suspended him for the Jets’ Sept. 11 opener against Cincinnati for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. The one-game suspension was the result of his July 14, 2015, arrest following a high-speed chase with Missouri police. It was the second off-field infraction for the promising young defensive lineman.
Twelve days before his arrest, the league announced that Richardson would be suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season following a second failed drug test for marijuana.
During an interview with Newsday on Oct. 12 — the first day he was eligible to practice — Richardson said he had been dealing with depression after a close family friend was fatally shot in Missouri. At the time of the interview, he was seeing the team psychologist twice a week.
Now, the 25-year-old is adding fatherhood to his plate. But Richardson insisted he isn’t overwhelmed.
“I’ve been through major life stuff before,” said the lineman, who was the 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year and named to the 2014 Pro Bowl as an alternate. “Yeah, it’s been a lot. It’s been a lot my past two years of life. But this right here is not a burden. It’s more of a blinder put on me. Focus more on myself and my family. I never looked at it as a bad thing.”
Earlier this week, he called his one-game suspension “a blessing” because the punishment could have been far worse. But in truth, Riley — “20 inches. Seven pounds. Eight ounces,” Richardson proudly detailed — is his ultimate blessing. And though his daughter will live in California with her mother, he said he’s determined to see her as often as he can.
Richardson also pointed out that he has plenty of experience with babies.
“My brothers were having theirs early on, when they were 19. I was in high school, so I was the one babysitting,” he said. “They were in college. So after school and football practices, I was watching them . . . I helped raise a few of them, so I’m used to it. Nothing new to me.”
He then joked: “It’s just my own. I can’t give her back after a while. Gotta keep it.”
Fatherhood is a new role for him, one that even he can’t believe he now shoulders — “I know, right? Crazy,” Richardson said, grinning again — but in between the playful banter, there’s a calmness and a sense that he is eager to embrace his latest responsibility.
He isn’t yet sure how Riley will change him, but he knows she will. For the better.
“Time will tell all,” Richardson said. “I’m going to be a good dad though. Most definitely, I’m going to be a good dad.”