Most people know Jay Richardson as a big, strong defensive end with a knack for bringing down NFL ball-carriers.
Richardson’s biggest fan, Deborah Johnson (pictured on left), cheers louder than anyone when he takes the field.
Sometimes, she sees the 6-foot-6, 280-pound former Ohio State Buckeye as the professional athlete he has become. Other times, she looks at him and remembers a toddler chasing his favorite ball around the family living room.
That’s a mother’s prerogative.
“Growing up, Jay always loved sports,” Deborah said of her son, a five-year pro now with the New York Jets. “I have a picture of him when he was barely able to walk but carrying around a multi-colored felt ball with jingle bells in it. He’s always loved to run as fast as he can.”
Like many NFL players, Richardson will spend this Mother’s Day with his mom. His Dublin, Ohio, home will be packed with food, family and friends.
Deborah’s husband is a chef, so the kitchen is off-limits. Sunday is a occasion for her to sit back, relax and enjoy time with her babies.
“Mother’s Day is my favorite time of the year,” said Deborah, who has three sons. “The greatest gift you can give me is a meal to share with family. That is the tradition I inherited from my mother, where we sat around the table and discussed everything. It is a time that families can connect. Dinner at our house doesn’t start on Mother’s Day until everyone is there.”
Food also is the centerpiece to the Mother’s Day celebration at the Okung home in suburban Houston.
Russell Okung is preparing to begin his third season as an offensive tackle with the Seattle Seahawks since being drafted out of Oklahoma State. This weekend, though, belongs to his mother, Dorothy Akpabio-Okung (pictured on right).
“We go to church and do a Sunday brunch every Mother’s Day,” Dorothy said. “I’ll cook for him – he knows that – but that morning we go out.”
This weekend also is special for Dorothy as her daughter graduates from Texas A&M.
Big brother has always been protective of his little sister – even if it means standing up to mom.
“When Russell was 6 or 7, his sister was misbehaving, and I spanked her,” Dorothy said. “She ran crying to her brother, who came up to me and told me not to do that. I’ve called him ‘Big Daddy’ ever since. I still do. He is a protective type and takes care of stuff around the house whenever something needs to be done.”
On Nov. 11, Richardson and Okung will line up opposite each other when the Jets travel to Seattle for a Week 10 game.
This weekend, however, the two men share a common bond to a pair of special women in their lives.
“Years from now, kids don’t remember the gifts they bought for you, but they remember the time you spend together, the conversations you have and learning that their parents are people, too,” Deborah said. “That makes you feel good. That makes me smile.”