Former players keep calling back years after they've graduated to check on Akins, longtime assistant Strength and Conditioning coach. They seem to make it a point of inquiry about his well-being. That in itself says tons coming from all the Mississippi State athletes he's worked with through the years, setting out to help them in their athletic endeavors as well as making sure they have an opportunity to develop and improve as student athletes.
A humorous person with a will of iron, Akins' father Henry was a Navy man. Richard has proven to be a man of his word, too.
Despite his toughness, there's a genuine soft spot in his heart for all the athletes he's had under his wing. He makes it a point to follow their careers as much as possible. He wants them to succeed, to lead healthy, normal lives and make a contribution to society. Simply said he cares!
That doesn't mean that he doesn't have rigid guidelines to go by in developing and formulating a level of tolerance, all in the interest of building athletes and developing character. He's fair, but firm, and tries to treat everyone the same, although that may vary with each individual.
From an All-American to the last guy on the bench, he prepares them for four grueling quarters, plus overtime, if necessary. He teaches and prepares them for the toughest of circumstances, for the unexpected.
Just a few of his star pupils, past and present, include these from MSU's first ever Final Four edition under Richard Williams:
Towering 6-11 center Erick Dampier, first round NBA draft pick, "Mr. 3-points" Darryl Wilson, one of the Dogs' all-time great shooting guards, rugged 6-5 swing player Whit Hughes, who could take a charge with the best of 'em and doubled as a team leader, bruising 6-8 forward Russell Walters, a stellar performer. They all benefited from Akins' rigid physical preparedness. Akins accompanied the Bulldogs, the 1996 SEC Tournament champions to the "Sweet Sixteen" and the Final Four in the Meadowlands.
There are literally hundreds of others who went through Akins' strength and conditioning program. Although there are too many to list individually, here are a few current campers, male and female:
From Sharon Fanning's fast-improving Lady Bulldogs who have moved up to join not only the SEC elite but the national pace setters:
All-American LaToya Thomas, who helped the Lady Dogs to a first round win against Boston College in the NCAA Regional, All-SEC forward Jennifer Fambrough, who trained to be her best despite a late-season injury that slowed her down but didn't keep her off the court, and freshman sensation All-SEC swing player Tan White.
From Rick Stansbury's record-setting 2002 SEC Tournament hoop champions who left a trail of conquest through Atlanta, GA, capped by an NCAA Regional invitation:
Tournament MVP and All-SEC center-forward Mario Austin, one of the rising young college players in the country, sophomore whiz Timmy Bowers, a "great kid" with a work ethic attitude. Then there's one of the SEC's best all-round players in 6-2 "slamming" guard Derrick Zimmerman, another "great player" according to Akins. The list continues with the likes of junior transfer 6-8 forward Michal Ignerski, fast-improving Ontario Harper, slashing 6-5 guard-forward Winsome Frazier, sophomore to be 7-0 center Marcus Campbell, battle-tested, physical-minded 6-10 Lincoln Smith, and surprising 7-2 redshirt freshman center-forward Wesley Morgan.
Preparing to begin his 21st year overall at Mississippi State with the off-season just around the corner, Akins said there's two main areas that he emphasizes:
2) Work Ethic
One of the job descriptions is setting up an off-season strength and conditioning program. Another is maintaining an in-season training program for more than a dozen of MSU's men's and women's sports.
If you participate in a team sport today at Mississippi State, you're going to be involved in some kind of strength and conditioning program.
"When I came here there wasn't but about two of three sports lifting weights," recalls Akins, who has seen at least a ten-fold increase in physical fitness components.
"Probably none or maybe one of the women's sports required weight lifting when I arrived. Now we have women's golf in here along with football," said Akins, who added "a strength coach is only as good as the head coach he works with."
The magnificent Shira Complex houses the MSU Weight Lifting facilities as well as a football practice facility and offices, including Akin's. The weight-lifting room and equipment is second to none.
As more emphasis is being placed on conditioning, Mississippi State is keeping in step. Some years ago then Mississippi State football coach Bob Tyler summoned former MSU standout J.E. Loiacano to join the staff as strength and conditioning coach. Akins served as a graduate assistant.
Before arriving at Mississippi State, Akins played football and was on the track team (discus) at Ethel High School near Kosciusko, Miss. He played football at nearby Holmes Junior College for two years, going both ways as an offensive and defensive lineman. Following a couple of years at Holmes, he enrolled at Mississippi State where he completed his undergraduate work in 1977. One of his teammates at HJC was Clarence Harmon also of Mississippi State and the Washington Redskins of the NFL.
Akins, who once served as supervisor of MSU's McArthur Hall athletic dormitory, often gets cards and calls from former players and from parents thanking him for having an impact. One was MSU standout pitcher Carlton Loewer who was drafted and signed by the Philadelphia Phillies.
Many of today's current MSU student athletes give a lot of credit to "Coach Akins" as do the coaches.
Akins has had ample support from fellow coaches and his wife Cindy, a former prep basketball standout at Grenada Kirk.
"I work with a lot of great people here at Mississippi State and for great people, but none greater than my wife Cindy," he said.
"Cindy is one of the best coaches' wives in the world. She's understanding and she sticks by me," added Akins, who also teaches three classes on campus.
They have two children, Ronnie, who'll soon have his degree from Mississippi State, and, Beth, soon to wrap-up requirements as an Air Traffic Controller.
A unique individual who you grow to love and respect, Akins was invited to speak recently upon the retirement of his high school football coach Billy Gray.
That's the kind of impact Richard Akins has often had on individuals with whom he's become associated - a blue collar, true patriot whose door is always open!
Don Foster, a 31-year veteran newspaper writer, is the Sports Editor for the Starkville Daily News. He will be writing regular feature articles for Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports and Mississippi High School sports on the internet.