With the 2012 MLS Combine & SuperDraft lurking just around the corner, some of the guys at the office were reminiscing about one of the more memorable parts of the drafts in the past. That being the speech given by my brother in 2009. Jason Saghini, the brain behind the production of the Rookie Life Series, told me yesterday that the main reason he selected Richard for the show was because of his speech. Most of the draftees featured in the program (found on MLSSoccer.com) consists of 1st and 2nd round selections. As most of you know already, Richard Jata was selected 58th overall, out of a possible 60. Go to the 3:54 mark in the video clip below to see the speech again. It's a moment that will stick with me for the rest of my life and I'm truly grateful MLS released it for all of us to see.
I remember the 2009 SuperDraft as if it were yesterday. Names of former teammates and friends of Richard's were getting picked over him left and right. Its as if his journey to IMG Academy and time with the PDL team in high school didn't amount for anything. Its as if his "nearly full ride" to Furman didn't mean anything - same recruiting class as Jonathan Leathers and Shea Salinas. Its as if turning down the 50% offer by Wake Forest (all they could do at the time due to funding) meant nothing. Its as if his game-winners in Campbell's 3 consecutive victories (2007-2009) over UNC got lost in the other, more important scores. Richard's decision to accept a full ride to Campbell University might have been a poor decision in terms of exposure, but in essence, it might just end up leading him to his future wife.
Its a shame to see such a talented and dedicated individual like Richard get wiped away from the game he gave his life too. Some may say it happens all the time - and I might agree to some extent, but this is different. I saw the sacrifices he endured growing up as a teenager. He left home and all of his friends to go to IMG Academy as a sophomore in high school. He practiced hours upon hours all by himself while his friends were out partying and living it up. He was a 15-year old kid on a mission and nothing was going to get in his way.
After finishing the 2011 season with the newly refurbished Wilmington Hammerheads squad of the USLPRO, Richard is finding it harder and harder to support himself and his future decisions without a steady job. He realizes that if he wants to take the next step with his longtime girlfriend, Ashley Smith, he's going to have to give up on his lifelong dream of becoming a professional soccer player and start looking for that 9 to 5. Unfortunately, for a college graduate with little experience on his resume other than a long list of awards and accolades contributed mainly to soccer, its tougher than you might think. Seen in the image on the right, Richard has had to pickup a holiday season stint with UPS just keep up with his bills, while he continues to look for a full-time job with benefits.
Richard's professional career may have been brief, but he certainly made an "Impact"!?! After spending the entire 2009 preseason with the Chicago Fire, Denis Hamlett decided to release him in favor of a developmental player who spent the previous season with the team. The trails in France were also brief and the language barriers were nearly impossible to breach. After talking to people during the teams visit to FC New York in 2011, I can see why he doesn't want to return for the 2012 season either. The pay is horrible and the coaching is nothing to be desired. Young players need to be encouraged at times and if there's a lack of mutual respect from both parties, the relationship between player and coach will not succeed.
I ask myself this question all the time, Why were the Soccer Gods so good to Richard in high school and college - blessing him with knowledgeable coaches who exuded guidance and direction - but so cruel to him at the professional level, where a coach can be the most influential person in your life? I can only imagine what a coach like Sigi Schmid or Peter Nowak could've done with Richard had they been given the chance.
This year I turned 28, and on my birthday I received a package in the mail from North Carolina, where Richard currently resides. As I walked to my room to open my gift, so many things popped into my head. What could it be? Seconds after ripping off the wrapping paper I realized what it was. There in front of me was the only professional game-worn jersey my brother will ever wear. Along with the gift was a card that read this, "Ben,...I wanted you to have the only official Jata #9 jersey from my first pro season in the USL. I want you to know that I have only achieved my success in soccer because I had a close brother helping me all these years. You inspired me to be great so here is a thank you gift for helping me! I love you!" - Richard
So now that the story of "Richard Jata - The Soccer Player" finally comes to an end and "Richard Jata - The Family Man" starts its journey, there's one person I want to send a special thanks to:
To my younger brother, Richard Jata, YOU have truly inspired me to do great things. I look up to you for what you have accomplished and I will cherish all the moments we spent together playing soccer growing up. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me the joy of following you on your journey through all the ups and downs. Its truly been an amazing ride. Without your enduring passion for the game and monumental success at the college level, I'd have nothing to write about. Your professional career may end with a one-year stint at a club some people would never give the time of day to go see, but I did and I'm extremely grateful I got to witness it. My contributions to your career may seem insignificant to some, but at least I know they meant a lot to you. Love Ya Bro!
Here's a few brief videos from over the years that I never get tired of watching...