Richardson Finds Home At Free Safety

FAYETTEVILLE -- When Matterral "Red" Richardson left Arkansas' football team last season with one game remaining, it wasn't just the standard disgruntled-freshman story.

Richardson had a one-year-old son back home in Texas; he had just gotten beat on a big play against Mississippi State and life was closing in on him.

"Matterral is a great young man who has had a lot of adversity in his life growing up," said UA secondary coach Chris Vaughn, who recruited Richardson and now coaches him at first-team free safety. "He has overcome that, and we want to be an extension of his family."

Richardson played 10 games as a reserve cornerback and special teamer last season, but went home before the finale against LSU.

"He wanted more playing time, like all freshmen, but then he got beat deep against Mississippi State," recalled UA coach Houston Nutt.

Vaughn said, "Red is such a great competitor, that really hurt him (even though Arkansas won the game 24-21).

"He felt he let the team down. He cares about this football team. So that's hard to deal with when you don't open up that much."

Richardson had helped his Marlin, Texas, team make a state high school championship game, and was named a Super Teamer in central Texas by the Waco Tribune-Herald.

When Richardson's mother, Sherrell Allen, moved to Dallas while he was in high school, Richardson stayed in Marlin and lived with teammate D'Nerian Wrighter and his family. Wrighter also earned a scholarship to Arkansas, but has since fallen by the academic wayside.

Arkansas assistant coach Bobby Allen, who coached Richardson last season, said this week, "Red has matured so much from high school, it's incredible. It's 180 degrees. We had a long talk after he went home, and I told him he had a real shot in football -- maybe someday in the pros. I said the best way for him to take care of his son was to come back here and finish school."

Richardson had pondered transferring to another school, but he returned to Arkansas after Christmas and talked with Nutt.

"Being far away from home for the first time, I was homesick last year and I had some personal issues," Richardson said. "Everybody feels like he should be playing more, but I thought about it and I was excited about coach (Reggie) Herring and our new defense."

Vaughn added, "We wanted Red to know we loved him. We think this is the best place for him. His son lives with his son's mother, and Red has family in Dallas. Our coaching staff can be as supportive of him as his blood family."

Richardson responded with perhaps the best spring of any Razorbacks defender, and this week he has switched from cornerback to safety without missing a beat.

"He's a quicky study," Vaughn said. "He understands the game."

Hogs strong safety Vickiel Vaughn added, "He's doing fine. He came from cornerback, so he's a good coverage guy."

Herring, who likes good tacklers and wanted his best 11 defenders on the field, said about Richardson: "He's a good instinctive football player. He has vision, he reads, he makes plays. He has all the tenacity and the intangible makeup of an excellent safety. And he's an excellent tackler."

Nicknamed "Red" by his grandmother, Richardson has grown from 5-foot-11, 185 last season to 6-0, 195. He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.40 and believes he can go faster.

"I ran a 4.44 the first time on "pro day" in May," Richardson said. "Then coach Deck (Don Decker) pushed me and I ran 4.40 the second time. I think I can run 4.3."

Allen noted, "Red wasn't ready for the speed of the game in the Southeastern Conference last year, but now he is."

Besides his improved speed, Richardson has good awareness.

"He's a very intelligent football player who sees the game," Allen said. "You tell him something on the board once and he gets it."

Darius Vinnett, a UA senior cornerback, has noticed.

"Red is real smart," Vinnett said. "And he's a hard worker. He treats practice like a business. He's already picked up things at safety."

Richardson seems to have taken his position switch in stride.

"It's different," he said. "You see more action at safety, and you have to tackle. Corner is more 1-on-1. But I played both in high school."

Allen sees that as an advantage.

"A cornerback who likes to tackle," he said, smiling. "Red is totally committed. He's one of our team leaders right now. What a blessing to see a young man mature the way he has."

The articulate Richardson was a communications major last season, but now he's changed to sociology.

"I wanted to be a broadcaster, but then I thought, 'How could I help more people?'" he said. "I want to be a youth counselor. From where I came from, I think I can help.

"Some people don't have father figures to look up to, and I'd like to talk to them. Coach Nutt, coach Allen, coach Vaughn and coach (Tracy) Rocker have helped me, with things like not being so self-centered."

Now when coaches yell during practice, Richardson realizes "it's business, not personal."

One more thing. Richardson's first named is pronounced "matt-TAIR-uhl. Not like "material."

But red-clad Arkansas fans can just call him "Red" if they like. It's easy to remember.

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