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Zedrick Raymond works ‘one step at a time’ toward NFL

Zedrick Raymond's family doesn't want him to come home.

His relatives miss him, but they don't think he should return to his hometown of Mobile, Alabama, after he finishes his senior football season and graduates from Miami this winter. It wouldn't be best for him. It might not be safe.

"They don't want me to get in any kind of trouble - not that I'm a troublemaker - but it's easy for trouble to find you," Raymond said.

According to 2017 data released by the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Mobile is safer than only two percent of U.S. cities. Its crime rate per 1,000 residents was 63.5 percent, almost 30 points higher than the state of Alabama's 34.8 percentage.

Raymond lived there until he finished high school. He's been gone since, attending three different colleges and playing football at each of them in the last five years. Two weeks ago, he started his second full year in Oxford after transferring from Independence Community College of Last Chance U fame.

Even before those stops, Raymond developed a motto: "Take it one step at a time. Don't look back."

It was originally inspired by Tupac Shakur's song, "Starin' Through My Rear View."

He carried this with him through the struggles of his childhood. He clung to it while getting limited recruiting attention out of high school. He held it close while transitioning from Delta State University to Independence, and again when committing to Miami.

"Just off my upbringing, the things I've seen and went through, my childhood, I had to grow up early," Raymond said. "I had to grow up fast, so it was always just keeping going. If you look back, you might get stuck and not be able to come out of the hole."

Raymond said he adopted the motto so long ago, he can't remember when he didn't live that way.

Tragedy has forced him to maintain his mindset. Since arriving in Oxford, he has lost three close friends from Mobile. It only fueled his family members' yearning for better things for Raymond.

"It's not that they don't miss me, but they want me to go as far as I can," Raymond said. "Quite frankly, I am the last hope for the generation of the family, in trying to get things started. I was really the first one to go to a physical college."

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For Raymond, Miami has been a blessing since the day he first visited. The school even got his mom's approval, so he said coming here wasn't a hard decision.

But he doesn't want his story to stop when he earns his diploma after this semester. His ultimate dream is playing in the National Football League and being able to provide for his family.

"I think with the way he plays and his skillset, talking about the next level, he's going to have a chance," said John Hauser, Miami's co-defensive coordinator. "He's going to play his ass off on special teams. He's going to play hard on defense at a multitude of positions. I'm hoping he turns himself into someone with a chance to play on Sundays. I think he can."

Hauser said Raymond is typically quiet and unassuming, but becomes a different person once he steps onto the turf. He seeks action.

Redshirt senior wide receiver Luke Mayock, Raymond's teammate of two years, consistently matches up with the 6'0" corner in practice.

"He's a competitor," Mayock said. "I mean, every snap, he's going to give it his all, and you have to give it your all to have a chance against him."

Raymond's work ethic and Last Chance U pedigree might just work in his favor.

Damion Willis, a Last Chance U Season Two star and former Troy University standout, went undrafted in the 2019 NFL Draft. But, that wasn't the end of his story either.

He signed with the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted free agent and was one of his team's top performers this preseason. On Sunday, Willis lined up as a Week One starting wide receiver in his first career game.

Raymond had never heard of Willis until last week. Upon hearing the rookie receiver's success story, Raymond smiled and looked up at the sky. He paused in thought for a few seconds before managing only one word through his grin.