SAN FRANCISCO — As always, Sheldon Richardson spoke to his “little brother” from his heart.
The Jets defensive tackle, who had a difficult year, has offered guidance and encouraging words to Shane Ray ever since the two were college teammates at Missouri. And with Denver rookie outside linebacker Ray set to play in the biggest game of his brief NFL career, Richardson again is cheering him on.
“He told me to really appreciate the moment,” Ray said in an interview with Newsday a few days before Super Bowl 50 on Sunday night at Levi’s Stadium. “He can’t wait until he gets in one. That’s what he told me: When he does, he’s going to ball.”
The two speak at least once or twice every two weeks, and during the past year, Ray was a listening ear for Richardson. The murder of a 23-year-old family friend on Jan. 30, 2015, had sent Richardson, 25, into a depression. By the start of the regular season, he had been suspended four games for failing a drug test (marijuana) and had been arrested and was facing possible jail time for driving up to 143 mph on a Missouri interstate highway.
“I called him and we talked about everything,” said Ray, 22. “He understands the magnitude of what happened and how much money he lost this year. And one thing I can always say about him is, regardless of what happens in a situation, he’s always trying to give me a lesson.”
On Jan. 26, 2016, Richardson pleaded guilty in a St. Charles County courtroom to resisting arrest, speeding and running a red light as part of his deal with the prosecution. He was sentenced to two years of bench probation and 100 hours of community service and fined $1,050. But although he escaped jail time, he could be subject to an additional suspension by the NFL for violating the league’s personal-conduct policy.
“We talk about things that go on with me,” said Ray, who, like Richardson (13th overall), was a first-round pick. Ray, however, slipped to No. 23 after he was cited for marijuana possession before the 2015 draft. According to ESPN, he automatically was enrolled in the behavioral portion of Phase 1 of the NFL’s substance-abuse program.
“He’s always telling me, ‘Little bro, stay positive. Little bro, you don’t want a four-game suspension, stay on track, don’t slip up.’ And that’s the kind of guy he is,” Ray said of Richardson, the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013. “He’s made mistakes but he’s knowledgeable of his mistakes. Since I was a freshman in college, he’s always been there as that kind of role model for me. Even if he isn’t doing everything right, he’s still going to tell me to do everything right, he’s still going to tell me to do things right. That’s why we’re so close.”
Their bond is deeper than just friendship. Theirs is a true brotherhood, forged in streets on the north side of St. Louis.
Though Ray grew up in Kansas City, he said he often visited his father’s family, who lived near the Richardsons. The two grew close over the years, and each made his way to the University of Missouri (Richardson played two years at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, California, before transferring). Ever since their college days, they’ve served as each other’s support system.
Ray said he and Richardson often remind each other of how far they’ve come and how much further they still have to go. “We talk about those days,” Ray said. “Those days will never go away, they’ll never fade. But he has the same mentality. We’re guys that have always had to go get what we wanted.”
That’s why Ray has no doubt his “big brother” will thrive after enduring one of the hardest years of his life. Richardson, he said, is too smart, too talented and too driven to wind up failing.
“Things may slow him down but they don’t stop him,” Ray said. “I know where he’s from. My family grew up with Sheldon’s family in St. Louis, so I know Sheldon’s story, I know what he had to go through, I know how far he’s come
“ . . . He showed me how to be a pro early. When I was trying to figure out the blueprint and how I wanted to get drafted, I was watching Sheldon. He’s just that kind of person.”