EAST LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – If there’s one thing Mel Tucker wants more than bringing a national championship to Michigan State, it’s setting up his players for a successful life after football.

Former Spartan linebacker Darien Harris served as the team’s Director of Player Engagement, until he was promoted to Assistant AD/NIL & Special Advisor to the Athletic Director in July of 2023.

With Tucker needing to fill a position on staff, there was a perfect candidate nearby.

When Kurt Richardson found out his wife was having twins, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was sitting right next to him.

“He was the first like on Instagram on that picture,” Richardson said.

Having close relationships with NFL stars is nothing new for the Lansing Eastern grad. He has been helping athletes all across the country build a personal brand beyond the field.

In 2010, Richardson’s long-time friend and a former captain on the MSU football team, Kaleb Thornhill, had a football camp for his non-profit that was called ‘4th and 1’.

“He had me come speak at it, and what I did was a presentation I had been doing in Detroit about personal brand,” Richardson said. “We had a relationship with Ndamukong Suh when he was drafted by the Lions, and I was just telling people, this guy understands he’s going to do something other than football for a long time and he started doing it his rookie year.”

From there, Thornhill connected Richardson with athletes in the NFL and he has been able to work with players like Saquon Barkley, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck over the course of 11 years.

All of his experience has led to Richardson landing a dream job with the Spartans.

“We’ve had some offers, my wife and I, to take this job at other places but we didn’t want to relocate our family from here to somewhere else. For this to open up, it’s kind of like winning the lotto ticket,” Richardson said.

While going through the interview process, Richardson was quick to see the importance of the position to head coach Mel Tucker.

“It was clear to me, like I know exactly how he feels about this and how passionate he was, and he and I left on an understanding of if you win games but don’t create winners in life, then what was the point of all this,” Richardson said. “We have 116 people who have the opportunity to be leaders in households and companies and families, and if that doesn’t happen, we missed the mark.”

The interview process is one Richardson will remember for the rest of his life, but it’s not because of the interview itself.

“While I was doing one of my final interviews, my phone was ringing, I could see it buzzing, so I didn’t know what it was,” Richardson said. “My wife knew I was on a really important Zoom, and she came in and I was like ‘Oh.'”

His mother Anne died due to pulmonary pneumonia, and he never had a chance to tell her he was interviewing for a job at the university she loved.

“She would have told every person in America that I was interviewing for this job, so I never got to tell her unfortunately. That mutes the experience but there’s a piece that’s like… her son, and she had a hard life, and we had a hard life growing up, was still able to figure this out.”