LAS VEGAS—Ray Mickens remembers when he was about to have a strapping son.
He was smack dab in the middle of an NFL career, still in his first stint with the New York Jets, and when the former nickelback wasn’t terrorizing anyone who dared to flirt near his territory, he was thinking about junior.
“I was like ‘man I get a chance to be around him, coach pee wee football,’ hopefully that he liked it,” Mickens said. “And it turned out that he did like football.”
It’s true. RJ Mickens likes football a lot. Much like his Pops.
The Southlake Carroll (Texas) freshman cornerback enjoyed a stellar first season with the Dragons, stepping up when all-district selection Robert Barnes went down with an injury, to help bolster a stop unit that allowed no more than 14 points in seven of the team’s 12 games. He snared three interceptions and earned first-team all-district honors, himself.
“I came in (as a reserve) for an injury and that solidified my spot,” RJ Mickens said this past Saturday during an interview, after helping Team Texas Elite defeat 702 Elite in the Pylon 7on7 Las Vegas National Championships. “It was a big a stage.”
It was a stage Ray Mickens was unsure his son was ready to perform on. And not because of his intelligence, either. The mentee’s football IQ was probably better than many upperclassmen. For Mickens, the mentoring father, it was a fear of the game’s physicality when trying to size up players who had been in the weight room for two or three years already.
“I was surprised at the level of success that he had, I’m not going to lie to you; but he held his own,” the proud father said. “He was able to come up and make some big hits, make some big plays and he ended up winning that starting job. I didn’t think that was gonna happen.”
Chalk it up to an observant young man who has never let the pressure of being the son of an NFL player get to him, but did have the smarts to pay close attention to every word dad had to say.
“He always has good advice for me and helps me make my decisions,” RJ Mickens said. “I’ve learned a lot from his mindset. His whole aspect of the game. It’s a lot of pressure, but I just put it aside cause I got role models … people I work out with, I see how they did it and it’s helping me.”
Obviously, Mickens said he understands his son will feel pressure, even if he knows when it’s affecting junior.
“My No. 1 concern is that he will make football bigger than it is,” Ray Mickens said. “Football is just a tool that helps you in life. And there are a lot of things you can get from football – leadership, teamwork, discipline – all of those things, really, that’s the big picture. I’m just scared that, in any young kid, is that they think football is life. That the game is life, and not what they’re getting from it.”
One thing he’s getting during the offseason is a national audience, and invaluable experience on the 7-man circuit. Facing some of the best high school players in the nation, in what is basically a battle of expertise by players who excel at skill positions, will only strengthen every aspect of the 5-foot-11, 175-pound shutdown corner.
“Now that he’s a high school kid, the game is more at the pace I’m used to. So it’s a lot more exciting to watch him play,” Ray Mickens said. “The fact that I played in the NFL, obviously, that’s his goal. And I don’t necessarily want it to be his goal. I want him to be just good in whatever it is that he does. Not, ‘hey, I got to make it to the NFL.’
“I’m just hoping he continues to work hard and takes something from the game, that’s the key.”