Richardson Accepting Role As Leader, Mentor
He critiques technique. He discusses coverage assignments. He tests his eager apprentices.
And cornerbacks coach Bobby Allen breaks into a smile whenever he sees the 6-foot senior in mentor mode.
"I've noticed how he's handled our younger players when he's not on the field," Allen said. "When I can look on the sidelines and see a senior being an extra coach, that's a good situation.
"I'm proud that Matterral's starting to become the kind of leader we need him to be."
When Chris Houston left early for the National Football League after last season, Richardson knew he'd be needed for more than his cover skills as a senior.
Richardson has appeared in 35 games as a Razorback. He has started 22. So ever since Houston left Fayetteville, Richardson has changed his approach. He now realizes that, as by far the most experienced cornerback, he must worry about more than just himself.
He must help his fellow corners, especially Jerell Norton, the starter at left corner, and true freshmen such as Isaac Madison and Ramon Broadway. He must, at times, act as the middle man between Allen and those trying to grasp the complexities of college football.
"I've started listening to my coaches more," said Richardson, nicknamed "Red" for reasons he wouldn't divulge. "In order for me to be a leader, I have to first make myself a better person and a better player. If people are going to look up to me, I have to get myself together.
"By doing that, I've been able to help out with the other guys."
In the process, Richardson has improved his own work habits, which he'll need this season as he matches up with the No. 1 wide receivers of the Southeastern Conference. He listens more intently in meetings and hones in on film. He works diligently on improving his technique. Not blessed with "Chris Houston speed," Allen said, Richardson must become perfect in other areas if he wants to post even better numbers in 2006.
Last season, Richardson didn't fare so badly. Opposite of Houston, he posted the seventh-most tackles on the team with 63. He broke up 10 passes, which ranked just behind Houston's 13. And he recorded six tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in Arkansas' Capital One Bowl loss to Wisconsin.
But now, Richardson wants to be more consistent. He wants to tap into his natural attacking style without letting it get out of control. Richardson hurt Arkansas with several untimely late hits last season.
"The thing about Red is, if you didn't know him, you'd think he was just a low-key guy," Allen said. "But he's kind of got an Irishman's temper. When it's boiling, he can really get hot. And I like that.
"But you've got to control it."
"Coach Allen and (defensive coordinator Reggie) Herring sat me down and said, 'We want to be aggressive in the right way,'" Richardson said. "I'm learning what that means a whole lot more."
As his time at Arkansas has progressed, he's also learned what becoming a more mature man is all about.
Richardson has a son, 4-year-old Marion. He left school right before Arkansas' final game in 2004 to take care of Marion, abruptly leaving a freshman season that included 13 tackles and key special-teams play in 10 games.
He didn't plan on returning, instead figuring he'd simply transfer or get a job. Arkansas coach Houston Nutt, safeties coach Chris Vaughn and Allen thought Richardson was making a mistake. After a heart-to-heart conversation with his brother, Richardson agreed.
"Coach Nutt thought the best thing was for me to stay here and try to get my degree and make myself a better person," Richardson said. "He was right. I'm so happy to be where I am today."
"Marion's back at home, and that's tough. But once he gets older, I'll sit down and talk to him and maybe he'll understand that I was away because I was trying to make a better life for him."
Hometown: Marlin, Texas
Notables: Set a career-high with 10 tackles, nine which were unassisted, in Arkansas' 27-10 victory at No. 2 Auburn last season. ... Led Marlin High to the state championship game during a season in which he picked off seven passes and made 87 tackles. ... Enrolled in the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences as a sociology major.
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