Redman's still running because Bowie State gave him a chance

Pittsburgh running back didn't have interest from Division I due to legal problem, test scores

February 05, 2011|By Kevin Van Valkenburg, The Baltimore Sun

Seven years ago, most of the athletic world looked at Isaac Redman and saw a young man who had thrown away a promising football career.

Bowie State coach Damon Wilson looked at Redman and saw a kid who, regardless of what mistakes he had made, did not deserve to be thrown away.

Sunday night, Redman will play running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XVL. He's not a star, but he is a valuable backup who scored a game-winning touchdown against the Ravens earlier this season. He will be in Dallas, on the field against the Green Bay Packers, because of how hard he's worked, and because of his physical talent, which he first displayed as as standout tailback at Paulsboro High in New Jersey.

But he will also be there, on that field in Dallas, because of Bowie State, and because of the chance Wilson took on him.

"It's a dream come true," Redman said. "I was just sitting in the locker room thinking about two years ago being at our media day at Bowie St. and it was just like one dude with a camera, he was interviewing and taking pictures. Just to be out here and see all the media and to be able to play in the new stadium ... it feels great to be here."

By the time the Packers and Steelers kickoff Sunday, it's likely that you will have heard plenty about the criminal investigation this summer into quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was accused of, but never charged with, committing sexual assault.

It's unlikely, however, you've heard very much about Redman, who once faced similar allegations as a teenager — allegations which were serious enough to rise to the level of a charge. If there is anyone who understands what it was like for Roethlisberger this year — what it feels like to face the prospect of not playing football because of something that occurred off the field — it's Redman.

In 2003, Redman was one of the best prep athletes in New Jersey. He was a state champion wrestler at 215 pounds, and a star football player who ran for 5,284 yards in three years. He scored 93 touchdowns for Paulsboro High School, including 37 as a senior. He had a scholarship to play football at Temple University, and dreams of the NFL.

Redman's future became unclear, however, when he and another Paulsboro teenager were indicted by a Gloucester County grand jury in the spring of his senior year. Redman was charged with committing first-degree aggravated sexual assault on a 15-year-old girl for an incident that occurred in a car outside a party. He was 18 years old at the time, and had to post $25,000 bail. He faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

The charges stunned the close-knit Paulsboro community. Temple initially stood by Redman, saying it would wait to see how his legal issues played out, but Redman failed to achieve a necessary qualifying score on the SATs, and his scholarship offer disappeared.

Redman eventually pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of criminal sexual contact, and received three years' probation. But no Division I school wanted to give him a spot..

A friend of Redman's put him in touch with Wilson, who at the time was the running backs coach for the Bulldogs. Wilson admits he had some concerns, but he said he has also always believed that one mistake shouldn't define someone's entire life.

"Obviously, when you watched a little bit of him on film, you saw the extraordinary athletic talent," Wilson said. "But once you had the opportunity to talk to the young man, you could see he was an all-around good person. I think when you're a college football coach, your job is about more than football. It's to help mold and develop young men. Sometimes they're going to get into some adverse situations. We had a conversation about his situation, and I think he's the kind of kid who learned from his mistakes."

Redman's time at Bowie State was far from idyllic. He won a starting job as a freshman, and ran for 1,512 yards as a sophomore, but the school decided to redshirt him in 2006 because of academic issues. His final two years at Bowie State were marred by injuries, but whenever he did get on the field, it was obvious he could play. He still finished his career as the school's all-time leading rusher.

"He was special from Day 1, but he went through some trials too," Wilson said. "One thing I don't think folks outside the business understand is that football is football. I don't care if it's Division I, Division II or Division III. If you have talent, the scouts will find you."

Redman wasn't drafted, but the Steelers did sign him as a free agent and put him on their practice squad. He spent a year there, but gradually, he began to earn the Steelers trust. Even when he found success, he was careful not to paint his story as a tale of redemption.

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