Tuesday, December 29, 2015

SPORT STORY >> Bielema says NFL will note abilities of K-Rich

Special to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE – Attending the Brandon Burlsworth Award luncheon earlier this month prompted a thought.

Might the Arkansas Razorbacks have a 2016 candidate for the award named for their greatest football walk-on?

Arkansas third-year sophomore defensive back Kevin Richardson, of Jacksonville, began his Razorbacks career walking on and redshirting in 2013 under Bret Bielema just like Burlsworth did in 1994 under Danny Ford. He was also a Burls Kid Award recipient as a senior at JHS.

Much like Burlsworth climbed the ladder first as a backup guard in 1995, Richardson lettered in 2013, playing some in every game on special teams and spare defensive back, making eight tackles.

Look at him now. Placed on scholarship, as of course Burlsworth was, Richardson not only has played every game all over the secondary and special teams, earning 39 tackles, an interception and three pass breakups for the 7-5 Razorbacks as they enter the Liberty Bowl in Memphis against the Kansas State on Saturday, but the kinesiology major has started the last four games at nickel back.

Bielema, Jennings and defensive coordinator Robb Smith say. Richardson has helped everywhere they have needed him in the secondary and they have needed him everywhere.

“I think Robb said at the coaches’ awards that he was the only DB that literally played all five positions on the field,” Bielema said.

That versatility aptitude and attitude even the NFL notices, Bielema said.

“His intelligence, his football I.Q... he’s got to gain a little bit of weight but he is a guy if he keeps progressing the way he is, he will definitely have a chance to play football beyond here,” Bielema said. “He is a really, really good football player.”

The late Brandon Burlsworth, originally a Razorback out of Harrison in 1994, earned All-American both athletically and academically in 1998. His award, won this year by Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, honors for outstanding performance and character the nation’s outstanding college football player who began his career as a walk-on.

About the only difference upon their Arkansas arrivals, Burlsworth came hugely overweight and had to be slimmed down while Richardson entered like a 6-0 welterweight and still looks slight even eating his way up to a listed 175 pounds.

“He is probably the lightest one in the group but he brings the most punch to the table,” Arkansas second-year defensive backfield coach Clay Jennings said. “We talk about mental and physical toughness. I think he epitomized that.”

Has Richardson surprised him?

“Yes he has,” Jennings said. “But the one thing that Kevin brings to the table every day is a blue-collar work ethic. We talk about playing with a fanatical effort and he does it.”
Even after their five SEC victories, Bielema and the Razorbacks didn’t seem to exceed their joy of Aug. 9 when Bielema announced Richardson placed on scholarship.

“We announced K-Rich was on scholarship about a half hour ago and the place went up for grabs,” Bielema told media on that Aug. 9 coinciding with Arkansas’ annual preseason media day.

Jennings that day likened it to more joyous hallelujahs than a Sunday revival.

“I have never seen so many guys jump up and down,” Jennings said. “You would thought they were in church today when Coach announced it. All those guys are excited for Kevin. I am excited for Kevin.”

Jennings explained why.

“This guy comes to work every day with his lunch bucket,” Jennings said. “He doesn’t shy away from any work. Anything anybody else does he wants to do 10 times more. He is what being an Arkansas Razorback is all about. He has got Razorback blood in his family. All of his brothers and sisters have gone to school here, too so we are happy he is going to be on scholarship.”

Richardson that Aug. 9 called the scholarship, “something I have dreamed of that gets a lot of weight off my parents shoulders and now I have it front of my eyes.”

“That doesn’t stop the grind,” Richardson added. “I am going to work like I still don’t have it.”

For now Richardson takes it one dream at a time.

The scholarship and starting are dreams achieved and this Liberty Bowl invite, achieved overcoming a 2-4 start, is Richardson’s next step for a team dream in 2016. “We didn’t play how wanted to in some games,” Richardson said of the team’s struggling start. “The overall thing was to get a postseason game and we’re here. Hopefully this can give us a good boost into next season and hopefully get into the playoff. That’s everybody’s goal in college football.”