|USC Legends News|
Soward seeks a 2nd chance
He doesn't want to be remembered as R. Jay Soward, NFL megabust, epic drunk, dope-smoking zombie.
"It hurts a little to know people think that," he said. "It hurts a little.
"No. It hurts a lot."
So the one-time game-breaking USC receiver/returner is plotting an NFL comeback. Against all odds.
At age 29. After six full seasons out of the league. Before the NFL has reinstated him from his last failed drug test.
"All he wants is a chance to go back and prove he can be a consummate professional and make up for some of the mistakes he made," said Kasey Caldwell, his agent.
"It's not like he killed someone."
Soward all but buried his career, however.
After scoring 32 touchdowns in four seasons at USC, Soward was the Jacksonville Jaguars' first-round draft choice in 2000 and was paid $2million in bonus money.
He lasted 13 games.
The weight of NFL expectations crushed the former Eisenhower and Fontana High standout who in 2004 conceded he smoked marijuana every day at USC.
He struggled on the field. He self-medicated off it.
He failed his first drug test and was suspended late in his rookie season. And then the spiral became severe.
His drug of choice was a sweet but potent cognac mix of Hennessy and Alize.
"It was a state of depression," Soward said. "You can't go to work. Everybody is talking bad about you. So you say, `C'mon, let's go get this fifth and this other fifth. C'mon, homies, board up. We'll be happy.'
"And I wouldn't worry about anything until I woke up a couple of days later."
For two years, Soward was in and out of rehab, trying to get clean, but never quite achieving it.
He didn't touch bottom until 2003. Pretty much all of '03.
"I was just laying in bed," he said. "I couldn't get up, couldn't do anything. I just physically laid there almost the whole year, and I totally stopped taking drug tests and I said, `Forget the NFL, I'm pretty much done."'
Then came a phone call from Stacy Robinson of the NFL Players Association. A man Soward never had met.
"He told me, `You still have a chance. You still can do it. Just get up off your (butt) and do it."'
Soward returned to rehab. He attempted to get reinstated. But while waiting for word from the NFL, he got an offer from the Canadian Football League in May 2004.
Unsure about his NFL eligibility, he went north and played two seasons for Toronto, with mixed results. His agent said he was used mostly as a decoy, "to take two or three defensive guys deep so his teammates could catch balls underneath."
Soward didn't play in 2006. He repaired televisions, worked in a warehouse and stoked his competitive fires.
"It was when he was in Canada that he realized that he really, really wanted to play football," Caldwell said.
Soward has been back in the U.S. for three months. He is being drug tested and is seeing a psychologist, as per NFL reinstatement guidelines.
Soward estimates he has been tested eight times. Caldwell wants a few more clean tests on his client's resume before they push the process to the next level ... and eventually to the commissioner's office.
Soward knows his history is spotty. But he also feels as if he has "never done anything outrageous," certainly by recent NFL standards of misbehavior, and ought to be reinstated, finally.
Then, the schedule in his head goes into motion. Somebody's practice squad a month into this season. Activated halfway through the season. "Play eight games, maybe score 10 touchdowns."
Meantime, he is getting in shape at Adrenaline, a health club in Riverside. He realizes he will have to "do something amazing, so I can't be denied" if he gets into an NFL camp.
Said Caldwell: "R. Jay is a skill player who can step right in and play. He's still fast. He's never been injured. And he has his head on right."
Soward doesn't want to be remembered as a guy who had it all - and almost immediately threw it away. "I want to be a guy who faces up to responsibilities and doesn't run away from them," he said.
It's a noble goal, a lofty goal. One R. Jay Soward is convinced is worth pursuing, even if it's late in the game.
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