Every day, Birmingham Iron running back Trent Richardson does what almost every football player does: he gets up at 5 a.m. -- 5:30 at the latest -- to go work out. But perhaps unlike many other football players whose routine begins before the sun comes up, he doesn't go alone. Tagging along is Trent Jr. -- T.J., as he's known -- at all of 6 years old. T.J. makes his own lunch. He gets ready for the day. And then they go lift together.
You see, T.J. wants to be a football player, just like his dad, and in that Richardson finds his new purpose.
"It's amazing man, and there's so much motivation behind that," Richardson said. "T.J. gets up and he's ready to work out, every morning. Every morning. He don't miss a day. And my trainer will tell you the hardest worker he has in that doggone weight room is my 6-year-old."
T.J. gets his athleticism from his dad and plays football and basketball. On the gridiron, he splits his time between quarterback, running back and linebacker. At 5 years old, he was already playing with an age group a year older than him.
"He's a dog," Richardson said of T.J. "He made the all-star team. It was just amazing to see how smart he is with it, how fast he picks it up. And that's one of the biggest things for me. I almost didn't name him after me because I didn't want him to ever have to feel like he had to live up to what I have done, you know? Because those are big shoes and there's a lot to fill in. But from looking at it from what I can see he's going to be better than me, way better than me."
Richardson knows his son can play. What he didn't know, at least at first, was why.
"I'm going to play football so I can take care of the family so you can stop playing one day," T.J. told his dad. "You can't take care of the family forever."
Then Richardson paused, realizing the weight of what he said.
"He's so ahead of his time, and I think can we slow him down, let him be a kid?" Richardson said. "But then there's some stuff that he says that reminds me that he still is. He'll ask if we can watch 'Boss Baby.' And I realize, OK, he just turned 6 in October. He's still 6."
They grow up fast, though. Richardson, 27, is a young father when he, himself, never had a father figure growing up. Taliyah, the oldest, is already 12. She still lives in Richardson's home town of Pensacola, Florida, with 10-year-old Elevera, about four hours away from Birmingham. Both are excellent students.
"Taliyah got a 4.0. She got all advanced classes," he said. "She texted me tonight asking 'Dad, when are you going to send me some money for my report card?'"
He laughs. He knows the tricks. They were the same ones he used to run when he was a kid.
"Being a young dad, ain't too many things they can pull over my head," he said. "And Elevera, she got all As and one B. She was scared to send me the report card because she had a B. And I was like 'Baby, I'm so proud of you.'"
The moment Richardson began talking about his children, he changed. He sat up. His eyes became unglossed. He smiled. He pulled out his phone to share a video of T.J. running around and laughing with Iron teammate and former Alabama quarterback Blake Sims -- "Uncle Blake," as he's known.
"My role is just to understand that every step I make I'm being watched," Sims said. "So I need to make sure I'm watching what I do, not just for myself, but the ones behind me and the ones that look up to me. They're the ones that I'm trying to be a leader for."
It goes a bit without saying, but Richardson has had a rough go of it since leading Alabama to a national championship in 2011-12 and finishing third in the Heisman Trophy voting. He was drafted No. 3 overall by the Cleveland Browns in 2012 only to be traded to the Indianapolis Colts early in 2013 for a first-round pick, a deal that would be lambasted. Like so many players who are now in the AAF, he became a journeyman. He joined the Raiders and Ravens, but was waived by both teams after he was hampered by lingering injuries.
He finished his NFL career with 1,469 yards at 3.4 yards per carry and 14 touchdowns.
Compounding the problem were his financial and personal troubles. In a segment with ESPN's E:60 in 2016, Richardson found out his family and friends. In February of 2017, he was charged with third-degree domestic violence for an incident allegedly involving him and his ex-girlfriend, Sevina Fatu, who is the mother of his children. The charge was later dropped, with Richardson maintaining that he was trying to walk away from the situation. Fatu was later arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated battery and one count of criminal mischief in March of 2017 when she allegedly rammed a Mercedes-Benz SUV into a car containing Richardson and another victim.
"He has learned so much," Sims added. "The good things that have happened, he has learned from that. The bad things that have happened, he has learned from that as well. And he's trying to grow every day. He's not done."
Richardson spent the 2017 season with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the CFL, but found another opportunity to make it back to the NFL with the Iron. The journey started all over again last May when Richardson was visiting with his old college coach, Nick Saban. That's when he learned Joe Pendry, the Iron's general manager, was looking to put together a team.
Pendry knew Richardson from when he was the Crimson Tide's offensive line coach from 2007-10. One day after meeting with Saban, Richardson got the call from Pendry.
"I made a commitment to him," Richardson said. "I was like 'I'm coming to play for you.'"
The AAF doesn't have many star players; it has recognizable names, though. That's the benefit of allocating regional talent to their appropriate markets. Richardson is probably the biggest star the Alliance has on the field, but not always for the reasons Richardson would care to talk about. In Richardson's mind, that's in the past. He's here to show he can still make in the NFL and live up to the hype he had coming out of Alabama. More importantly, he wanted to show himself. That road began Sunday with two touchdowns in a.
"I wanted to be in football again, I wanted to get back to it and just be showing that I could still play," Richardson said. "Showing myself. I got a lot of tread on my tires, but I can still go because I haven't been banged up or anything ... I've just have some situations. And the situation I have is in the past and I've overcome a lot of it. And I've learned to grow and grasp that no matter what the opportunity in front of you is, you've got to seize it. You've got to seize it and you know you can't look back on what happened in the past.
"Everybody talks about the national championship and stuff like that," he continued. "Yeah, that's good and that's great, and I did that at that level. Now I'm ready to go to the next level and do what I need to be doing to get me there."
Even T.J. knew what his father used to be. How could he not? People talk, of course. He hears it, and he sees it. He'd watch YouTube videos of Richardson running through tackles with the Crimson Tide. But he's never been able to see him succeed in person. While Richardson wants to make the most of his next opportunity -- obviously, the NFL is the end goal here, as it is for so many in the AAF -- he also wants the chance to do it in front of his children.
"To be able to play for my kids and let them actually enjoy it instead of everybody else," he said. "It's a platform that people put us on. And while we have that platform you got to take the most of it and be able to share your story, to share your life."
"When they grow up, when Trent's kids look at him as a father, and they look at me as they uncle, they going to know we're some bosses. You know what I'm saying?," Sims added. "We fell many times, but we got right back up. And nobody can say that we got the red carpet. We had bad people around us, but God has blessed us."
"One thing I tell my kids: you are your way out," Richardson said. "For me that's means everything. And my kids will tell you to this day no matter what their dad has done, they are their way out. That's exactly what they'll tell you. My dad might be this, my dad might be that, but at the end of the day I've got to live my life."