From walk-on to star defensive back|
Sept. 3, 2011
By Lindsay Brash
September 3, 2009 is a day to remember for senior defensive back Wesley Richardson and his family. On this day, all of his hard work paid off. He was offered a scholarship on the University of Cincinnati football team after working tirelessly for two years as a walk-on for the Bearcats.
The walk-on is an important aspect of any team. They play the game because they love it and can't live without it. While others get the scholarships and all the glory, the walk-ons offer depth to the chart. But with minimal playing time and no scholarship to motivate them, they have their own reasons for playing.
"I just loved being a part of the team," Richardson said. "I loved the guys. It was easy staying motivated having friends and teammates that supported me and brought me along with them."
Richardson, a 6-foot defensive back, joined the Bearcats in 2007. After redshirting his freshman year, he worked hard to stand out on special teams. Like many walk-ons, the scout team and special teams were home to Richardson, where contributions can often be minimal. But that didn't stop the Columbus, Ohio native from making an impact on the program.
During his first season, Richardson played in 12 games on special teams. Despite registering just nine tackles and posting a season-high two tackles against West Virginia and Syracuse, he quickly made a name for himself. Just one year later, he received the news he was waiting for - he would be granted a scholarship.
"I remember it being just a joyous day," Richardson said. "(I was) happy for myself, my parents and my family. I wouldn't be here without them. They were the ones who believed in me and knew that I could earn a scholarship and play at this level. I called my dad and we celebrated together over the phone."
That wouldn't be the last time Richardson had reason to celebrate. After earning his scholarship, he went on to have an impressive 2009 season, in which he played in all 13 games on special teams and in the defensive backfield. He finished the season with 21 tackles and a forced fumble to help the Bearcats reach a BCS bowl for the second year in a row.
Last season new head coach Butch Jones, Richardson continued to shine. He played in 11 games, making 42 tackles, including 27 solo, and proved to be a valuable asset to the defense after recording interceptions in back-to-back-games. He finally hit his stride, but this season will offer a new set of challenges.
Now a senior, Richardson will be expected to use his experiences to lead his younger teammates.
"I try to set an example on and off the field and not show any downside to playing special teams because that is where I made my name," Richardson said. "I started on three special teams during my first three years so I just try to lead them in the right direction."
Richardson understands that as a starter, many of the younger players look up to him, hoping that one day they too will have the same opportunity. As a leader, one of his responsibilities is getting players to trust in the team and coaches.
"This year I feel like we are coming closer," Richardson said. "Everyone has really bought in this year and is sold on these coaches, what we do out at Camp Higher Ground, the off-season program, the lifting."
A big part of the team coming closer together is their annual trip to Camp Higher Ground in Indiana. The team boarded buses on August 12 heading to training camp for two weeks, when the players spend 14 uninterrupted days practicing, working out and having team meetings. The players also practice for the first time in pads and starting positions are earned.
"We don't have distractions. That's the number one thing," Richardson said. "All we have is each other. It's a great feeling knowing that you can be together for two weeks while being away from society. It's like we're all brothers, so it really helps a lot in bonding."
The lessons the Bearcats learn at Camp Higher Ground will be put to the test when they take the field for the season opener against Austin Peay on September 3. That moment is something Richardson and his teammates look forward to. For Richardson, it's hard to explain the feeling he gets when he walks out of the tunnel and sees all of the cheering fans.
"When you come out the tunnel and the whole crowd is blacked out and you have the fireworks going off, the hair stands up on your arms, you can't even describe it," Richardson said. "It's a great feeling."
Richardson said that playing in front of 35,000 fans at Nippert makes it seem like you are playing in a stadium that holds twice as many. This year, the team has the chance to play at both Nippert Stadium and Paul Brown Stadium, home to the Cincinnati Bengals.
"It's exciting, we played (at Paul Brown) last year against Oklahoma and Bearcat nation came out strong," Richardson said. "It was a lot of fun selling out an NFL stadium with a big team coming in. We were hyped for that game and we're ready this year for our rivals Louisville and West Virginia. We know it's going to be a great game."
With the Bearcats playing two of their BIG EAST opponents at Paul Brown, the expectations will be high on both Richardson and the team. While fans have their predictions, Richardson has his own beliefs of what the team and he are capable of.
"We are trying to go to the BCS, nothing else," Richardson said.
While he has big ambitions for the team, he has his own set of expectations for himself.
"My goals are to be an all-conference player and to help lead my team to a BIG EAST championship."