One of the great things about life is people eventually find their lane.
Jaime Cardriche was the wide load who took up his lane and part of another, but he found his calling.
An actor with Oklahoma ties, Cardriche died 20 years ago — July 28, 2000. If you’re not familiar with him, let’s correct that now and share his story in remembrance.
Cardriche showed up in Stillwater in 1986 and was so massive (6-foot-9, 395 pounds) that he stood out even among hulking bodies on the Oklahoma State football team. He reported to OSU with the intent of being an athlete. Maybe you’ve heard of some of the people in his freshman class: Barry Sanders. Mike Gundy.
Like Sanders and Gundy, Cardriche was destined to appear on TV screens, but he took a different path — literally a different world — to get there.
Let’s start with the goat story. Actually, let’s start before that.
Bigger than life his entire life, Cardriche was taller than his teacher in the first grade, according to a 1986 Oklahoman story. By the eighth grade, he measured 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds. And he was still a growing lad.
Cardriche remained nimble enough to play basketball, averaging 15 points and 11 rebounds during his senior season at St. Anthony High School in Long Beach, California. College coaches were intrigued by his potential. Among them was OSU coach Paul Hansen, who invited Cardriche to take a recruiting visit. Cardriche told Oklahoman writer Tom Kensler he signed a letter of intent with the Cowboys (choosing OSU over Cal and Xavier) because of Hansen and the coach’s pet goats, Bonnie and Clyde.
“I’d never been away from California,” Cardriche said. “Coach Hansen took me to his ranch and, in the 48 hours I was there, I don’t think I could have gotten closer to a coach.”
What could go wrong?
Hansen was fired Feb. 13, 1986. The coach who pursued Cardriche — the guy who would be in the recruit’s corner — was gone. Cardriche wondered if he was still wanted.
Leonard Hamilton, hired as Hansen’s replacement, inherited Cardriche and asked Pat Jones to place the big rookie on a football scholarship, according to Jones’ 2007 book.
Cardriche couldn’t help but attract attention when he towered over teammates at a football press day in August 1986. Who is that guy? He was a reporter’s dream: A fresh interview subject who said things worth quoting. Kensler wrote that Cardriche was, instead of the “strong, silent type,” more like the “strong comedian type.”
“They had to weigh me on a special scale, one that goes to 500 pounds,” Cardriche said during a press day interview. “The scales you take physicals on, when I stand on them they just go ‘pffft.’”
Cardriche, challenged to shed weight, apparently didn’t want to overdo it.
“If I weighed 265, I’d just fly off the ground,” he said. “There wouldn’t be anything to hold me down.”
Bobby Riley, a 5-foot-9 teammate, agreed to stand next to Cardriche for a press day photo that appeared in the Oklahoman. Riley said the intent was to get a picture of the biggest guy on the team next to the smallest guy.
Riley, in a recent text exchange, recalled that Cardriche didn’t know much about football, “but he was a giant body on the line and had the heart of a lion. I also remember that he got along with everybody. I always feel like that says a lot about someone of that size as he could have used it to be intimidating, but he wasn’t at all. He was just a genuinely nice guy.”
You know who said pretty much the same thing? Every teammate contacted for this story, including Vance Vice, who, according to J.R. Dillard, injured a finger when he fought with Cardriche at practice.
“Great guy,” Vice said when asked about Cardriche. “Fun-loving and always smiling. The best thing about our practice skirmish was coach Jones ended up between us on the ground and broke his watch. I got to hear a lot of his famous vocabulary. Good times!”
Cardriche never appeared in a football game. Turning a page, he and two-sport athlete Melvin Gilliam joined forces with the OSU basketball team. There are no records to confirm Cardriche was part of the Cowboy hoops squad, but Gilliam said Cardriche was a practice participant and a “beast” of a player.
“Nobody could stop him,” Gilliam said. “He was so big. He would back you down and you couldn’t do anything.”
Gilliam said Cardriche dunked all the time in practice and, because of his size, was someone he used for picks. “It was like running around a building.”
Just like in football, Cardriche never logged a game appearance in basketball. He saw the writing on the wall and decided he would be a better fit somewhere else.
Cardriche returned home to California, where his family was in the restaurant business. He attended the University of San Diego where, again, he became a beloved and can’t-miss figure.
“The first time I met him was at a fraternity party, and I couldn’t believe his size,” former USD student Eddie McGowan said. “He barely fit through the door coming in.”
A campus newspaper showed that Cardriche was a first-team intramural basketball all-star in 1989 while playing for a team called Order the Shirts.
As sports stories go, that’s not exactly a Hollywood ending. But Cardriche made it to Hollywood anyway because he was a natural as an entertainer.
According to an IMDb bio, Cardriche dabbled in professional wrestling (alias: Harlem Warlord) and was working out at a local gym when he was discovered by a casting director. McGowan said Cardriche came out for the football team while at USD but quit because he got an acting job.
Cardriche made his TV debut in a 1988 episode of the sitcom “A Different World.” Some former OSU teammates did a double-take when they saw him. Said Gilliam: “I was looking at the TV and I said, ‘Man, that’s Jaime!’ ”
Cardriche appeared in about two dozen TV and movie projects (including “House Party”) over the next dozen years.
“I watched him on several of the shows and always pointed him out to my wife,” Riley said.
“He was very funny and he was someone with a tremendous presence beyond his size,” Matt Kolb said. “So when I saw him on TV, it seemed very cool but not surprising.”
Cardriche is best known for playing a “gentle giant” character alongside Malcolm Jamal-Warner and Eddie Griffin during the four-season run of the sitcom “Malcolm & Eddie.” Former OSU football player Mahcoe Moore followed Cardriche to California and appeared in the movie “White Men Can’t Jump,” according to Gilliam.
Kolb said everyone enjoyed being Cardriche’s teammate at OSU for a short time. Cardriche’s time on Earth was short, too. He was only 32 when he died of complications during gall bladder surgery.
Gilliam was asked what he most wants people to know about Cardriche.
“Dude, he was the best person,” Gilliam said. “He was the most fun person you would ever be around. He was amazing. He kept you laughing. He was a comedian, man.”
In the episode of “A Different World” where Cardriche made his debut, he played Winston “The Meat Locker” Woodson. His character was an athlete who yearned to make an impact in the creative world.
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