'Little Sam' Learning to Play Big

Lack of size hinders Sam E. Richardson to a degree, but he's found a way to stay on the field

Of course Sam Richardson hears them.

They call him Little Sam or, sometimes, Lil Sam. Iowa State's junior cornerback is listed at 5-foot-8 on the roster this fall, but he was 5-foot-7 last year and it doesn't look like he's grown much.

Richardson, the League City (TX) native, is Iowa State's second-shortest scholarship player. His teammates like to remind him of this.

"They give me a hard time," he said. "But I'm on the field."

Richardson laughs — delightfully — and you can almost see the chip on his shoulder bouncing up and down.

"You've got to!" Richardson shouts when asked if he has that chip. "Offensive coordinators are gonna come directly at me. You've got to play with a chip on your shoulder and have confidence so at game time, size doesn't matter."

Except, truthfully, it does. Richardson was beat deep and on several jump balls last season. Go on a photo search for him on Getty or USA Today Images and you'll be reminded of this — in the main art he's watching Texas Tech's Bradley Marquez haul in a corner touchdown. There's a snap-by-snap sequence of the dirty Baylor's Tevin Reese did to Richardson last year in Waco.

Nigel Tribune holding down the other cornerback spot, whoever wins the battle between Richardson and Ken Lynn for the second starter figures to be targeted a ton. Richardson started six games in 2013 and, probably because he was thrown at so much, always seemed to be around the ball. His seven pass breakups were second on the team. His 53 tackles — 53 tackles! For a part-time starter at cornerback! — were fifth. Richardson does have a penchant for playmaking ability. He forced a fumble against Texas Tech last season after surrendering a pass over the middle. In the first practice of fall camp, Richardson jumped a comeback route and beat a 6-foot-plus receiver for an interception.

"There's nothing I can do about my size but studying my opponent, understanding route combinations and things like that give me an advantage," Richardson said Sunday. "They help me in the end."

New secondary coach Maurice Linguist knew early he had a film nut on his hands.

"He's invested in his own play," Linguist said. "If you could pop your head in here (over the summer) on a Sunday night you'd see a dark room and you'd see Sam Richardson in there watching tape. The investment he put in there is [helping] on the practice field."

What sets Richardson apart from Lynn — and what would make him a sound nickelback if Iowa State ever went to a scheme that required its fifth defensive back to be a slot corner — is his open-field tackling ability.

Richardson's diminutive frame, which he's filled out with good muscle, allows him to quickly coil his appendages and strike at a ball-carrier — and there's a lot of force he can exert by staying balanced. As a young high schooler, though, as a smaller defender, Richardson was wary of sticking his nose into things.

"In high school my coach was on me about tackling, because I really hated it, always being undersized," he said. "Ankle-biter, to say. In college that's one thing I've got to do to be able to stay on the field: Be able to get guys down."


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