Josh Richards sat in the bleachers and watched his favorite team practice for the first two days of the informal workouts organized by Washington Redskins players this week. Growing up in a burgundy-and-gold home in Fairfax, he had always dreamed of playing for his hometown team.
Some of the Redskins players jokingly told Richards that he might get on the field if they were ever short a player, but Richards wasn’t laughing. He brought his cleats to each practice at the Northern Virginia location, just in case, and on the final day of the Redskins’ three-day practice session, only 23 players showed up.
When London Fletcher asked a small group of fans whether they had “brought their stuff,” Richards was the only spectator who had come prepared. The 28-year-old laced up his cleats and ran shyly onto the field in the middle of the defensive backs’ session.
“I felt like if I had cleats on they couldn’t say no,” said Richards, who played defensive back at Robinson High School. “So I went out there and did a few ball drills with the defensive backs.”
Was he nervous?
“Yeah, I dropped the first two balls, but after that I didn’t drop any more,” said Richards, who also blamed the slick and hard balls for his inability to intercept passes.
After he graduated from Robinson, Richards attended George Mason University, where he joined the club football team. Richards, who now works in the George Mason athletic department, currently plays in a flag football league.
But on Thursday he was a pro, thanks to the NFL lockout.
“Just to be out there with them was a lot of fun,” Richards said. “I always felt like I could be someone in the league, but not after looking at them.”
Richards said he wishes the opportunity had come sooner, so he could have gone one-on-one with wide receiver Brandon Banks, who missed the last workout after attending the first two. Richard said he looks to Banks for inspiration during the football season.
Banks “shows that you don’t have to be big to be in the NFL,” Richards said. “All you need is speed, quickness and desire. And I admire him for that.”
With coaches not allowed to contact players, Richards also helped set up cones and stood back, trying to pick up the team’s defensive schemes and learn coverage techniques from former Redskins cornerback Justin Tryon, who is now with the Indianapolis Colts. After the walk-through, Richards jogged off the field and told his friends along the fence that “the terminology is crazy.”
Richards “was asking questions so we tried to explain some things to him,” safety Kevin Barnes said. “He seemed pretty interested, so we were just helping him out. A few years ago, I was the same way, so I understand exactly where he’s at.”
Richards sat out during team drills, although he stood near the sideline, waiting on another call from Fletcher. Periodically, he would bend down and relace his shoes. The call never came. His work for the day was finished.
“This [experience] ranks pretty high because now I can tell all my friends, I practiced with the Redskins,” Richards said. “It could have been during the lockout and an informal practice, but I practiced with the Redskins. It’s not going to leave my memory. I’m going to savor this moment.”