JR Riddick was lifting weights in the Weinstein Center for Recreation and Wellness when a man approached him and asked why he didn't play football for the Spiders, Riddick said.
Riddick was unsure of whom the man was until he introduced himself as Danny Rocco, the new head football coach for the University of Richmond.
Rocco had seen Riddick working out and playing basketball during several trips to the gym this winter and, noticing his athletic ability, invited him to come to the open tryouts he was holding before Spring Break, Rocco said.
Riddick, a sophomore from Yorktown, Va., made the team as a wide receiver, after having played just two years of high school football.
He played his freshman year of high school and then didn't play for two years because his family moved to the Netherlands, he said. When he returned to Virginia for his senior year, Riddick played for York High School alongside Ben Edwards, currently Richmond's starting wide receiver.
"We hit it off really quick," Edwards said about Riddick in high school. "I was the quarterback, he played wide receiver, so I was constantly communicating with him on the field. We were close off the field too."
Riddick said he had talked to Edwards when he had begun to think about joining the football team at Richmond.
Rocco said, "Ben was probably as instrumental in talking to him about the program and the enthusiasm for the program [as anything]."
In fact, it was Edwards who introduced Riddick to the University of Richmond as a high school senior.
I told him that I was being offered a football scholarship at Richmond, and then he looked into the school, Edwards said.
"I was going to go to the Naval Academy to play basketball," Riddick said. "And then, a couple of weeks before the deadline, I came here and changed my mind."
Riddick said he had considered trying to walk on to the basketball team at Richmond, but things hadn't work out.
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Still, he stayed involved in intramural sports throughout his freshman and sophomore years.
"Freshman year, during intramural football, my friend and I thought we were the greatest things ever," Riddick said. "We drew up plays, and all we ever talked about was IM football. Every second was, 'How are we going to win?' We'd go an hour early to warm up."
Riddick said he and his friend had joked about joining the varsity team.
"When I told [my friend that I was actually joining, he seemed really surprised," he said, "but he was actually really happy too."
Rocco said that there was a large population within Richmond's student body who had played high school sports and who could play at the Division-1 level.
"There are a number of intramural sports here where these guys compete on a weekly basis," he said. "And quite often, they're competing against the guys that are on the sports teams here at Richmond."
Rocco said he had offered the open tryout, and would continue to offer one every semester, because he wanted to give men an opportunity to pursue something that they might be interested in doing.
"It's obviously a big commitment," he said, "but in the same token, I think there's an awful lot of reward to it."
Riddick said the time commitment for football had already affected the amount of time he was now able to spend with his friends.
"My friends are very supportive of me playing," he said. "It's just that I don't get to spend as much time with them anymore."
Riddick is a tour guide, a resident assistant, the vice president of recruitment for Sigma Phi Epsilon and a member of the honor council. He said he hoped that being on the football team wouldn't diminish any of these roles.
Riddick also said he had made a commitment to the team and intended on sticking with it.
"Practices are going well," he said. "It took a little bit [of time] to get used to getting hit again."
Rocco said he was encouraged by Riddick's performance so far.
"He's made a lot of improvement," he said. "He has learned and studied in an attempt to really understand the position and be sound mentally. He's catching the ball better, which is something that is necessary for a wide receiver to be able to do."
Edwards said he had helped Riddick some but, for the most part, Riddick had picked up everything on his own.
"He's picked up the offense extremely fast," Edwards said, "and he's extremely athletic so everything comes naturally on the field for him.
"He's not getting a ton of reps like a bunch of the guys who have been on the team for a while, but every time he gets in, he does what he's supposed to do, and he's actually making big plays on the field here and there."
Contact staff writer Avery Shackelford at firstname.lastname@example.org
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