Karma seems to be giving Jonathan Willard another chance at football with the Roughriders.
In 2013, Willard was on his way to an NFL training camp for the first time in his career with the Tennessee Titans. Willard was driving to camp when a car in front of him started to smoke.
“We were just driving down I-40. When I first saw it, I was thinking it was just a little bit of smoke, nothing bad,” said Willard.
“After about two minutes it got really really bad and then about 30 seconds after that, flames started coming out.”
At that moment, Willard knew had to stop that car. So, he pulled up next to them and managed to get the driver to pull over.
“I just (saw) somebody that needed help.” – Jonathan Willard
The driver quickly jumped out of the car and that’s when Willard took a peek inside.
“The first thing I saw in the backseat was kids. I’m like ‘man we got to get these kids out of the car.’ By then, another guy came by the name of Clint.”
The good news is that Willard and Clint were able to get all of the kids out of the car and even a few personal items as well.
Considering Willard was off for the football try-out of his life, the fact that he pulled over and put his life on the line to save another is remarkable.
In the moment, Willard had no second thoughts about what he was doing.
“I just (saw) somebody that needed help,” he said.
“There was a moment when I was in the car and I can see the fire coming out from the front of the car. I actually looked out the side window and I saw cars passing by, I’m just like ‘is anybody going to stop and help?’ At that moment, I realized I’m kind of different than everybody else; I like to help people.”
Once the scene was cleared, what Willard just did finally hit him as he began to shake. Willard then pulled over and had to call him mom to talk to her on the phone for a little bit.
Willard’s football career never took off in the NFL. Since being cut by the Titans, Willard had been working in Sheriff’s department in South Carolina.
That moment didn’t lead Willard to his new job; it just seemed like a fit considering his entire family had jobs in similar fields.
“I have an uncle that’s really, really top in South Carolina as a county police officer. I have another uncle that’s a sheriff as well. My sister was a dispatcher. So, it kind of runs in the family a little bit,” said Willard.
Considering the nature of his family, Willard would have actually been in more trouble with them if he didn’t stop and help.
“Exactly, they would kick my behind,” joked Willard.
Now, Willard’s good deed is paying off with this extended try out with the Riders on their practice roster. Even though not everyone who signs late in the season returns for training camp the next season, Willard is just grateful to get another chance at the game he loves.
“Man, this opportunity means everything to me. Just a week ago, I was at home just thinking about if I could still play. I knew I still had it, just looking for somebody to give me a chance.”