Rams' Daryl Richardson running past obstacles
There are some moments in life when you can totally relax. You know the moments: Friday after work when you can finally fall into the living room couch and kick your feet up. That chilly but calm Saturday evening in the hot tub. Those early-morning walks on the beach.
To Daryl Richardson, a rookie running back for the St. Louis Rams, this euphoric calm is about as foreign as the word "ruhe."
Richardson has spent his life chasing a childhood dream of playing in the NFL, constantly having to figure out how to skirt the series of road blocks in his path.
Raised in the small town of Vernon, Texas, Richardson was at an immediate disadvantage. He knew he couldn't get the type of coaching and athletic competition he'd need to grow into a Division I football player. In 10th grade, a time when his family thought it was imperative for him to have better competition, Richardson moved to Jacksonville, Fla., to live with his father and attend Sandalwood High School, a school of about 3,100 students that competes in one of the toughest athletic districts in the country.
"It was important for Daryl to play against the best high school football players in the country," said Richardson's father, Daryl Sr. "That was the only way he was going to get noticed by colleges."
Richardson immediately made a splash in an area much on the radar for top-tier college programs. By his junior year, his mailbox was flooded with offers from big-time Division I programs. That is, until he scored below collegiate standards on the ACT, quickly scaring just about every school that had been luring him.
By the second semester of his senior year at Sandalwood, Richardson's ACT score hadn't improved, and he was forced to put football on the back burner so he could prove himself academically at Cisco (Texas) College.
Richardson hit the books at Cisco immediately. While some freshmen on campus were rushing sororities and fraternities, Richardson was rushing to the library. When other freshmen were gathering at the student union, Richardson was at his dorm room desk reading about the Union Army.
Richardson's dedication in the classroom paid off, and after only one semester in 2008 he was able to transfer from Cisco to Abilene Christian University, a Division II football powerhouse. At the time, ACU had a Division I-like roster. Bernard Scott (now a running back for the Cincinnati Bengals) was threatening to run into the school's record books, and Clyde Gates (now with the New York Jets) was a big-play threat at wide receiver.
They also had some pull in attracting Richardson to ACU. Scott is Richardson's brother, and Gates is his cousin.
"When I was at Cisco, they kept telling me how good the school was and how great the football team was," Richardson said. "They also told me that they were better people for having gone there. And that was the same message I was getting from the coaching staff. They don't necessarily preach to you about the NFL. It was more about turning me into a man."
In three years at ACU, Richardson continually improved. By his senior year, he was entrenched as the team's starting running back, and his 867 yards and 11 touchdowns were enough to make ACU fans -- to some extent -- forget about his older brother and predecessor. His performance also put him in contention for being a late-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft, which, if it happened, would bring Richardson's childhood dream to fruition.
"During the process, I wasn't sure I was going to get drafted," Richardson said. "I was getting a lot of calls from teams, but they weren't talking about any specifics, and that usually isn't a good sign."
Sure enough, in the seventh and final round of the draft (a mere one pick before its conclusion), the St. Louis Rams announced they had taken Daryl Richardson, running back from Abilene Christian University.
Richardson calls that announcement "the best moment of my life," but his work was by no means finished. Headlining the Rams' running back stable was three-time Pro Bowler Steven Jackson, and to make matters even more daunting, the team also had taken a running back in the second round, Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead.
Richardson entered camp as a low-round pick, a title usually reserved for players whom an NFL team will use for camp and then demote to their practice squad for the year.
"My mindset in camp was to keep working hard, trying to get a better and better role on this team," Richardson said. "My work ethic was going to have to be the difference."
The work ethic that Richardson had picked up during his hours in the library at Cisco and through the lessons from the coaching staff at Abilene Christian proved to be the difference, as coach Jeff Fisher and his staff awarded Richardson a spot on the regular-season roster. Richardson was one of the league's more productive rookies, carrying 98 times for 475 yards (fellow rookie Pead had only 10 carries), including a three-game stretch in which buzz was building that Richardson was going to take over Jackson's starting role.
"You never want to get comfortable, though," Richardson said.
For a man who had to move in the middle of high school to find a viable football program, who was rejected by big-time programs because of his ACT score, who transferred colleges, who barely got drafted and who narrowly made an NFL roster, it's probably a safe assumption that "never getting comfortable" is one test that Richardson can pass with flying colors.