Richardson's return provides Arkansas another proven playmaker

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Tuesday, July 3, 2018
Hawgs Illustrated/BEN GOFF 
Kevin Richardson, Arkansas nickel back, runs for a touchdown after recovering an Ole Miss fumble in the fourth  quarter Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss.
Photo by Ben Goff
Hawgs Illustrated/BEN GOFF Kevin Richardson, Arkansas nickel back, runs for a touchdown after recovering an Ole Miss fumble in the fourth quarter Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss.

— Kevin Richardson had the tweet drafted months in advance. His eagerness to hit send was turning into anxiousness.

On May 10 at 2:31 p.m., he let his 5,000-plus Twitter followers know the NCAA had awarded him a sixth year of eligibility.

In April, the NCAA Division I Council voted to allow a sixth year to players who were redshirted their first season on campus and later missed another year because of injuries. Previously, NCAA bylaw 12.8.1.5.1 tended to favor only players who had missed two seasons because of injury, or due to circumstances beyond an athlete’s control.

“Finally official man, ready to put that Razorback logo on for one more year!” Richardson wrote on Twitter. “Y’all in for something special this year Hog fans! #WPS”

Richardson, 23, had to wait nearly a year to learn whether he would be eligible to play in 2018 or not and, admittedly, doubted if another year with the Razorbacks would come to fruition.

Earlier this spring, however, Richardson was one of 25 SEC athletes in attendance at the Student-Athlete Advisory Council's (SAAC) conference in Birmingham. There, he spoke with Matt Boyer, SEC Assistant Commissioner involved with compliance, and soaked up any and everything he could on the then-potential rule.

“That rule change actually came up (at the conference),” Richardson said. “That was the first thing I noticed, and I asked pretty much every question about it just to find out what information I could get. Just to hear the rule get approved — and as soon as it got approved, (UA Director of Compliance) Will Landreth and myself and (UA Compliance Coordinator) Kat Davenport, we all went and filled out the application and sent in the paperwork for it.

“Then they texted me that it got approved.”

The news was an enormous sigh of relief. Everywhere Richardson turned in the days, weeks and months leading up to his joyous announcement, his eligibility was seemingly the only topic on anyone's mind, he said.

Richardson had a plan or two he could have fallen back on had the rule not gone in his favor. But it pained him to fathom a Plan B if his college football career was to come to an end after the draft and agent-hiring processes had passed him by.

“Just to have that question answered for myself and everybody else was something I really needed,” he said.

The Jacksonville, Ark., native’s return provides coach Chad Morris and defensive coordinator John Chavis with another proven playmaker. Richardson considers 2017 the highlight of his time in Fayetteville in terms of individual production. He totaled 50 tackles and finished tied for the team lead in interceptions (3) with Santos Ramirez.

He scored the first defensive touchdown of his Arkansas career in a historic comeback at Ole Miss, scooping up a fumble and returning it 22 yards. Richardson had promised friends he would celebrate should he make a play in Oxford that weekend.

“There was some fan talking noise in the back of the end zone telling me to go back to the sideline, so I threw up the Landshark sign and ran through the end zone doing it,” he said.

Richardson is among a number of playmakers on both sides of the football. Defensively, he points to McTelvin ‘Sosa’ Agim, Ramirez, De’Jon ‘Scoota’ Harris, Dre Greenlaw, Kamren Curl, Chevin Calloway and Ryan Pulley.

Agim, Randy Ramsey, Jamario Bell, TJ Smith, Jonathan Marshall, Austin Capps and incoming freshman Dorian Gerald will make up a potentially frightening front line. Harris and Greenlaw anchor the second level. They became the first Arkansas duo to record 100+ tackles each in the same season since at least 2000.

Veteran leadership is expected to be a strong suit in the Razorbacks’ secondary. And Pulley, who in the 2017 season opener suffered the same season-ending injury (torn pectoral) as Richardson in Game 1 in 2016, comes to mind first when giving an overview of the defensive backfield.

“He’s going to let you know that he’s going to cover you and he’s going to be in your face the whole game,” Richardson said of Pulley. “And I like that about his game because it brings a positive vibe and makes me want to do the same thing. I think it’s just a south Florida thing that they bring to the game, and he’s one of the best at it.”

Agim envisioned trouble when Pulley went down with injury against Florida A&M last season.

“It was like, ‘Dang.’ It was like that was our spirit animal, basically,” he said. “Losing him, it took a lot from us.”

Ramirez and Curl man the safety positions. Curl’s move to safety was among the top defensive storylines of spring drills. Richardson sees the rising sophomore — 46 tackles, 8 pass breakups — flourishing in his new role.

“He has some of the best ball skills on the team,” he said of Curl. “Me and Pulley said that in his first year in fall practice. You could see it all last year.”

Richardson plans to add depth and skill at nickel along with D’Vone McClure, Derrick Munson and Hayden Henry. He would not be surprised to see McClure move into the No. 2 spot as a bigger body capable of making plays in the box and in coverage.

Offensively, Richardson’s roommate, TJ Hammonds, jumps out as a big play threat. The running backs room, collectively, has the ability. Add Chase Hayden and Devwah Whaley, and Arkansas has a formidable three-headed monster. Independence CC tailback Rakeem Boyd will compete for playing time, too. Maleek Williams proved tough to tackle this spring.

La’Michael Pettway, the star of Arkansas’ wintry spring game, could have a breakout season, Richardson said. Jonathan Nance, Deon Stewart, De’Vion Warren and Mike Woods bring speed at receiver alongside veteran Jared Cornelius.

Players are also high on tight end Cheyenne O’Grady, who caught two touchdowns in the Red-White game, including a 50-plus yard catch-and-run from Ty Storey.

“He is probably one of the best tight ends to come through here because he got to play under Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle and got to see what it’s like,” Richardson said. “He’s just got to use that capability. He has all the intangibles it takes to be the next Mackey Award winner if he goes and applies himself.”

The names are in the open. Now, it is a matter of those difference-makers putting their fingerprints on the inevitable big moments.

“The new staff understands where we were and they understand the playmakers we have and the playmaking ability we have,” Richardson said. “And they just knew that that was something we needed to focus on, whether its coach (Trumain Carroll) and the strength staff, or the defensive and offensive staff.

“Coach Morris says the standard is best, and that’s what we’re trying to be.”

This story was published in the June 2018 edition of Hawgs Illustrated

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