FAYETTEVILLE — Two Augusts ago Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema surprised then third-year sophomore Razorbacks walk-on Kevin Richardson with a scholarship.
Last April, Bielema surprised the defensive back/special teamer from Jacksonville announcing that Richardson and fourth-year injured the final 12 games of the 7-6 Razorbacks’ 13-game season, had been team elected a defensive co-captain along with senior safety Santos Ramirez for 2017.
““It was surprising all around,” Richardson recalled at SEC Media Days in Hoover “But overall really surprising that I was voted captain, especially knowing where I came from.”
Then, despite Richardson playing just part of the season-opener and nothing else for 2016 because he tore pectoral muscles, Richardson was told by Bielema that he had been tabbed as the Razorbacks defensive representative accompanying the senior offensive captains, quarterback Austin Allen and center Frank Ragnow, representing Arkansas at the Razorbacks session at SEC Football Media Days in Hoover, Ala.
Ragnow already is renowned to be an All-American among the favorites to win the Rimington Trophy awarded annually to the nation’s best football center.
Allen led the 2016 SEC in passing while starting every game.
Richardson started the 2016 season-opener and made seven tackles but hasn’t played since because of the torn pectoral muscles.
So there Richardson was in Hoover, a 2016 scratched by injury absentee accompanying two shining stars to the biggest conference’s media days.
“It’s exciting,” Richardson said Monday in Hoover. “It’s a dream come true for any guy from the state of Arkansas, just being able to come from being a walk on, to a starter to being voted team captain and now to be at SEC Media Days - it’s big. It’s huge to be able to come and do that here!”
Richardson earned it Bielema said Monday in Hoover. He has been earning it since he was a redshirted scout-teamer while walking on in 2013 and lettering as a walk-on playing every game on special teams and making eight tackles to proving more than his scholarship’s worth in 2015 filling in at both corners and both safeties and nickel back before starting the season’s last five games. He amassed 44 tackles, three pass breakups and an interception. He nabbed the interception and made 10 tackles against the Dak Prescott quarterbacked Mississippi State Bulldogs.
And he came back strong last spring on the field and as a sociology major is always strong tending to business off the field.
“Kevin Richardson just really embodies everything I believe in,” Bielema said. “He was a little undersized (5-10, 160 back then now up to 185), under-recruited, underdeveloped coming out of high school and presented an opportunity for him to walk on. Really in the first two weeks I knew we had something. Probably one of the most intelligent football IQ players I’ve ever been around. Plays all five DB positions and is a great leader off the field.”
Even before game-day coaching him for that just part of one game, then brand new defensive coach Paul Rhoads had said that Richardson knows as much or more defense than the coaches themselves.
Last spring Rhoads, elevated to defensive coordinator, said Richardson was sorely missed in last year’s struggling defensive lineup and heartily welcomed back for his physical skills, mental acumen and leadership at combining both.
Richardson is elated that while promoted to coordinator, Rhoads remains the secondary’s position coach.
“Coach Rhoads is one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever had,” Richardson said. “He loves teaching. He loves coaching. And he’s really helped me grow as a player this year. I got to understand his mindset by sitting in meetings with him and watching film with him. I feel like I’m ready to take the next step as a player without even playing this year.”
The secondary’s pass defense, often strafed in 2015, seemed Arkansas’ defensive strength of spring drills.
But the 2016 Razorbacks’ general inability to stop the run dragged the defense back front to back.
““We keep talking about setting the bar higher,” Richardson said. “We set the bar last year and it wasn’t exactly where we wanted to be. So we’ve set the bar higher for ourselves this year.”
They are clearing the bar so far in their summer workouts, Richardson said, heading into the official July 27 start of preseason practice.
“This is the first year we have had everyone on time to workouts, practice, meetings,” Richardson said. “We hold each other accountable and to higher standards. We expect them to keep raising the bar in order to reach the level, we want our program to be at.”
Former walk-on Richardson always exceeded the bar set before him. That’s why the team elected him a captain and Bielema picked him for Hoover.
“I never imagined doing any of this,” Richardson said. “I just hoped I could play one day. But now being a starting player with a scholarship, voted captain, and being at media days is something I could never have dreamt of doing. I’m living a dream right now.”