I should have thought of R.Jay Soward immediately. Instead, it was more of an “well, of course” moment, when I got to his name among the guys who took money.
Anything R.Jay Soward could have screwed up, in his football career, he did … so why not this, too?
I began covering R.Jay Soward when he was a sophomore at Eisenhower High School and started for the 14-0 Eagles team that won a CIF-Southern Section large school championship and was ranked No. 2 in the nation by USA Today.
He was a great open-field runner … just an explosive offensive performer. He could go deep, but he could also turn a 15-yard slant into a 75-yard touchdown. And he was a huge threat on punts and kickoffs, too.
Thinking back, he had more touchdown-scoring potential — at any level — than any player I saw in three decades in the Inland Empire. He commanded a double-team wherever he went, and he often still beat it.
But he had some demons. Issues. He made a weird transfer to Fontana High School the second half of his junior year (he alleged he might be a target of gangs when it seemed mostly to be about how Eisenhower’s basketball coach wouldn’t play him as much as he wanted). Anyway, he went from Eisenhower to its greatest rival, Fontana, which was strange. Or maybe not, given what we learned later.
By the time he got to Fontana, the rumors were out there. Rumors he later confirmed, of regular marijuana use. He became erratic. A fun guy, a good source, a train wreck as a dependable member of a football team.
He scored four touchdowns against UCLA as a freshman at USC, but that was the peak of his football career. Before it was over, he was taking cash from an agent. He confirmed, to SI, his taking money. Here is the pertinent paragraph:
Eight players confirmed to SI that they had accepted money or benefits from Luchs. Several of them, including former USC receiver R. Jay Soward, said they took the payments because their scholarship didn’t provide enough money for rent and food. “I would do it again,” Soward said. “I have four sons, and if somebody offered my son money in college and it meant he didn’t have to be hungry, I would tell him to take it.”
That’s our R.Jay. Not only not doing the right thing, not regretting it.
He eventually was taken by Jacksonville in the first round of the NFL draft (I was with him at his parents’ house in Rialto when it happened), signing a five-year, $5.5 million contract ahead of the 2000 season. But his relationship with the Jaguars went wrong almost immediately. Some of his troubles there are noted in his wikipedia entry, which clearly was prepared by someone who is not a fan of his. So take that into account. But it is the tenor of the entry and not its lack of factual accuracy that strikes me. Aside from the “almost being killed” by Traveler at the Coliseum, which seems a bit of an exaggeration.
A column I wrote for The San Bernardino Sun in July of 2007 is cited as a source for Soward’s wiki entry, but to click on the column is to take you to a dead link, which actually doesn’t surprise me, considering the upheaval of the L.A. News Group papers in the last few years. Though you might think something from July of 2007 would still exist.
I finally talked to R.Jay, for that column. For years, he had been difficult to find, but when I finally met with him in Rialto he seemed earnest and honest and determined to make an NFL comeback, even though he was pushing 30 even then.
He never did get reinstated by the NFL … or he never was invited to an NFL camp. Either way, he conceded to alcohol abuse, and having been drunk at several key moments in his NFL career. Which led to suspensions. In the Canadian Football League he seems best-remembered for scoring a touchdown, taking a bag of popcorn from a vendor and eating some in the end zone.
R.Jay has a twitter account that is easy to find, and in it he seems to be responding to several people critical of him for taking an agent’s money while at USC.
He is unrepentant, which pretty much fills the bill.
I feel sorry for him, but I don’t. He could have had a long and profitable NFL career if he could have kept his stuff together, but he couldn’t. But, then, by avoiding maybe 4-5 years of the physical punishment absorbed by NFL players, maybe he has a shot at a longer, pain-free life. Maybe having to face real life at the age of 25, 26, instead of five or six years later, was better for him
He is right when, in his twitter feed, he makes mention of college football using up players. The NFL uses them up even faster, and with even less sentiment. Of course, there is the money … though few guys seem to make a point of saving much of it.
On twitter, he makes reference to a chance to play football in Washington, and here is a link to a story in Washington about his being invited to try out with an indoor football team. Though he has been out of the game, as far as I can tell, since the CFL, four years ago.
On his twitter bio, he wrote: “Suspended NFL ball player looking to get that second chance by the league. I also produce music and have my own production company called Synth World Music.”
Hope it works out for him. Not the football, because at age 32 it probably is too late for that. But perhaps the music thing. It would be nice for him to be remembered for something positive. The SI story was just one more moment of exposure that put him in a negative light, and in the public realm, he’s had about 10 consecutive years of that.