Brooks: 'P-Rich' Focused On ‘W’s – Not Stats Or NFL
BOULDER – Rather than big-headed, Paul Richardson is level-headed. He’s about as well-grounded as anyone – fellow students, professors, coaches – strolling about the University of Colorado campus. Most who knew “P-Rich” and his work ethic were fairly certain that after sitting out last year with a knee injury, he would be a player to watch this season in the Pac-12 Conference.
An audience that goes well beyond the league has taken notice, but Richardson has barely noticed. He’s second in the FBS in receiving yards per game (155.3) and seventh in total receiving yards (621, five touchdowns). A fully extended, one-handed catch last weekend against Oregon was nearly as big a personal thrill as throwing his first career pass, which happened to go for a 75-yard first-quarter touchdown to D.D. Goodson.
All is well and good on “P-Rich’s” personal side, but there’s much more to him than himself. His football team is 2-2 overall, winless (0-2) in the Pac-12 and goes to Arizona State this weekend perceived as a no-chance-in-hell underdog against the Sun Devils. ASU is a 25-point favorite, which could change by kickoff (8 p.m. MDT, Pac-12 Network) but was on par with CU’s status among the oddsmakers before its first two conference games.
Richardson isn’t paying attention. Asked earlier this week if the Buffaloes “taking the next step” depended on winning a game that no one expects them to, he answered, “If that’s the case then we need to win all of our games because no one expects us to win any of them.” But, yes, he said, upsetting Arizona State would be a start: “They beat Wisconsin, they beat USC, so for us to go in and beat that caliber of an opponent would be great for our team as far as self-esteem, as far as energy and hype and just continuing on our goal which is to get to a bowl game this season.”
“P-Rich” is keeping the faith. One of the Buffs’ six captains, he takes his responsibility to his teammates seriously and puts himself second. “I’ve got to get my team ready each and every week,” he said. “I came off a 200-yard game (vs. Central Arkansas) then I had a 70-yard game (vs. Oregon State). It wasn’t in my control, but if you have a game like that you can’t go into the next one like, ‘I only had 70 yards’ and feel bad about yourself. There’s highs and lows, you have to be able to play the next week. You have to keep a level head and stay balanced.”
If every Saturday produced a 200-yard receiving day, that probably would mean the Buffs had won. That’s what matters; the personal stats and momentary personal highs don’t resonate with Richardson.
“I never hold onto things like that,” he said. “Since my freshman year when I had those big games, I had no idea I was breaking records. When it’s presented to me I appreciate it and it’s an honor to be in record books for Colorado. But that’s all in the past. I’ll live that when I’m done with college and then it’ll be like, ‘Oh, look at these memories.’”
As a freshman in 2010, Richardson set school marks for most receiving yards (514) and touchdowns (six) by a freshman. In 2011, he tied six other performances – including his own at Kansas the previous season – by catching 11 passes against California. But his 284 receiving yards in that game left him all alone as CU’s single-game leader.
His performances thus far in his junior season already have outsiders looking ahead and trying to project his future – specifically, whether he will return for his senior year or declare his eligibility for next spring’s NFL draft. Richardson admits the prospect of playing in the NFL “has been a big deal since my sophomore year” and says he relishes the critiques of his game he hears from NFL analysts and draft watchers.
“But,” he adds, “as far as taking that step, I worry about this season. The next step for me is the next practice, that next game.”
Richardson’s level-headed approach to what happens on the field took shape in high school (Serra, Los Angeles), when he and pal Robert Woods – now a receiver with Buffalo Bills – competed. “I knew you couldn’t get too excited or too down,” Richardson said. “You can’t be down on yourself, you have to encourage teammates to keep on being productive. That’s what I learned before coming to college. I had a great humbling experience.”
It continued at CU when he suffered the knee injury two springs ago that sidelined him last season. But he’s come back from that stronger and more determined. It didn’t take new receivers coach Troy Walters long to see what Richardson was made of and how he conducted himself.
“He has all the tools and abilities to be the best out there,” Walters said. “I mean, he can run. He’s got another gear that I haven’t seen in college football. He’s got hands and he’s hungry.”
The biggest hunger is for a season like the Buffs haven’t experienced since Richardson has been on campus. CU hasn’t been in a postseason game since the 2007 Independence Bowl. Richardson wants to end that streak as much as he wants the Buffs’ initial Pac-12 win this season. Getting it Saturday night would make the kind of statement he insists the Buffs are capable of.
“Guys are ready, guys are looking forward to this game,” he said. “This is a good test for us overall. And I think we’re going to meet the challenge.”
It will be a huge one. ASU is exiting a four-game stretch – Wisconsin, Stanford, USC, Notre Dame – that coach Todd Graham said at Pac-12 Media Day defined the Sun Devils’ “Any Challenge” mantra. His team finished those four games with a 2-2 record, losing to Notre Dame 37-34 last weekend in Arlington, Texas, in a game that stayed close despite three ASU turnovers. The last error was devastating: Sun Devils QB Taylor Kelly threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown with just 1:08 to play.
The Sun Devils’ only previous loss had been to No. 5 Stanford, and after losing last weekend, ASU dropped from both of this week’s Top 25 polls. The Sun Devils are 3-2 overall, 1-1 in the Pac-12. Their blowout win over USC (62-41) preceded the firing of Trojans coach Lane Kiffin and pushed ASU to Nos. 22 and 24 in the next week’s polls. Saturday night undoubtedly will find Graham’s team seeking a rebound ‘W’ that will hoist them back into Top 25 consideration.
Meanwhile, Richardson is certain that a pair of lopsided Pac-12 losses (44-17, 57-16) have not damaged the Buffs’ resolve. The spark remains, he said, but it needs to be apparent earlier in games such as Saturday night’s. “We just have to show attitude out the gate more and fight earlier and I think that’s the thing we will benefit from the most,” he said. “We show it in spurts and we show it sporadically, but if we do that from start to finish we’ll be a hard team to compete with.”
More oomph in the third quarter wouldn’t be a bad idea either. After halftime in their first four games, the Buffs have been outscored 52-6. Their fourth quarters have been more productive – a 53-16 edge – but in their two Pac-12 games the end was in sight at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Coach Mike MacIntyre offered a simple solution for fixing that third-quarter discrepancy: “We need to score more points and keep the other team from scoring . . . we need to just keep working on it.”
MacIntyre is Richardson’s third head coach at CU. He identifies well with him because their approaches are similar. MacIntyre, said Richardson, “just tries to keep the poise for the entire team and he just tries to stay level for the entire team.”
“Staying level” to Richardson or his coach means dismissing either being a huge underdog or a heavy favorite. Said MacIntyre: “I don’t think you approach games differently. You’re still trying to win no matter if you’re an underdog or you’re favored. But I do think it’s human nature to have a little bit more of a chip on your shoulder, a little bit more of that ‘I’ll show you’ type attitude . . .
“Either way, you better not be uptight because that’s when you play bad . . . if you’re worried about losing because you’re favored or if you’re worried not winning because you’re not favored, you better just go play. And I think our kids are starting to learn to just go play. Just go play.”
Paul Richardson would add, just go win. It’s a habit the Buffs need to reacquire before another season trickles away.