Auburn Walk-on Sees Opportunity to Play

With the Auburn football Tigers short on depth at the linebacker positions, a little-known walk-on could provide help.

Auburn, Ala.--Ashton Richardson's timing as a walk-on football player couldn't be much better and the sophomore from Baton Rouge, La., realizes that.

A 6-0, 201-pounder from St. Michael the Archangel High School, Richardson has a chance to be in the middle of the action on opening night when the Auburn Tigers take on Louisiana Tech to start the 2009 football season.

After making some good plays in the preseason scrimmages, he is working as a backup to strongside starting linebacker Craig Stevens and has a good chance to see action on several of the special teams units.

How surprising is that to Richardson? "I would say yes, I am surprised and no, I am not, because at a school like Auburn, with such a big defensive tradition, it is very rare to come in as a walk-on and have an opportunity to play this early. I did expect to come in and have some kind of opportunity to play."

Richardson says he believes his "opportunity to play" is excellent and notes he will have a chance to see action on the kickoff return team, the kickoff coverage squad and the punt return team to open the season. How much he will play at linebacker for defensive coordinator Ted Roof is still to be determined, Richardson notes.

"Right now I am starting on several special team units and I am getting a lot of practice time (at linebacker)," he says. "Of course, we have a couple of injuries and that is forcing me to step up in practice. We have to see how it goes when we get all of our linebackers back, but I do expect to make an impact on special teams."

Sometimes walk-ons receive invitations to join the Auburn program, but in Richardson's case he is the one who made the call and invited himself to the party last year before he enrolled at Auburn last fall.

"I am originally from New Orleans," he points out. "After Hurricane Katrina I relocated to Baton Rouge."

So why did the Louisiana native pick Auburn? "I really was just looking for a place to play football where I felt like I could help the team," he notes. "When I called the athletic department here they were real welcoming. They really made me feel like I had a chance to do something here and that was really all I needed. Plus, I prayed on it and asked God for guidance and it felt right coming here."

Richardson attended high school football power St. Augustine in New Orleans before being evacuated out of New Orleans due to the hurricane. He was a linebacker at St. Aug, but played cornerback and safety at his new school in Baton Rouge because that is where the team needed help, he notes, although he points out he did play some linebacker there, too.

Richardson says that he feels comfortable at linebacker, but points out he still has plenty to learn. "Practice is going real well, Every day is an opportunity for me to get better. I still have a long way to go at being able to play Division I football, but everything is good. Coach Roof treats me fairly and he doesn't put me down because I am a walk-on. I have no complaints."

Richardson is getting plenty of work at strongside linebacker where junior Craig Stevens is the projected starter. "Craig is always there for me," Richardson says. "He is like another coach. He always helps me. I almost feel like I bother him too much asking questions.

"Playing strongside linebacker is new to me because I line up in the flats a lot because in high school I always stayed in the box," Richardson notes. "It is new to me being out in space."

Richardson is already undersized for an SEC linebacker and earlier this month he was even smaller than his current size of six feet, 201 pounds.

"It has been a definite struggle for me to keep my weight on because of all of the heat and all of the running," the linebacker says. "At one point I was down to 193 pounds.

"During camp (prior to classes beginning on August 17th) they feed us real well--three meals a day," Richardson says, smiling at the memory. "That helped me get my weight back up. The training table was really good for me. I never knew it required that much eating to be able to maintain your size until I got to the training table and saw what the other guys were doing. It really opened my eyes."

Richardson says he is still in learning mode, particularly at linebacker, to be ready if needed on opening night. "I definitely need to work on being able to see my reads and my keys and being able to react quicker. I need to make sure I take the proper angles on my tackles. If I do that I should be fine."

Stevens says that Richardson has been doing a good job in preseason and is improving. "He has made some plays for us on defense," Richardson points out.

Another key member of the defense, safety Zac Etheridge, says that he has also noticed the walk-on's play. "He is doing a good job for us," Etheridge says.

Richardson says that he is glad that he is on the radar with his teammates and coaches. "I think it is just a combination of making some key plays and hustling," he says. "I think they really appreciate it when you give all you have."

In addition to coordinating the defense, Roof coaches all of the linebackers. "Coach Roof is just a straight-forward guy," Richardson says. "He is always there. He is not going to put you down because you are a walk-on. If you ask him a question, he is going to give you a straight answer. He is not going to lie to you.

"One thing about Coach Roof is that he is not biased," he linebacker adds. "He will definitely give you a shot if he feels like he needs you out there. You are going to get an opportunity no matter who you are."

The Tigers weren't expected to be deep at the linebacker positions this year due to attrition, but injuries have aggravated the situation. Richardson notes he isn't the only walk-on linebacker who has seen a lot action in the scrimmages. "Wade Christopher is getting a lot of playing time," he points out. "He is filling roles on the first and second teams. Also, Watson Downs. He is playing will linebacker."

The Tigers are putting in the game plan for the opener, which is a week from Saturday vs. a Louisiana Tech team that defeated Mississippi State of the SEC on opening night last year. When the Tigers take the field, despite Richardson being of the least known players on the team there is a good chance he will be one of the first 11 guys to take the field for the start of the Gene Chizik Era of Auburn football.


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