STILLWATER – I remember when Ramon Richards signed with Oklahoma State. Here was a successful quarterback who was very athletic and very intelligent. Harvard, Yale, and Rice were among the suitors for the San Antonio Brackenridge product.
Smart, fast, and athletic, but Richards didn't have it easy. He had to work hard to get his opportunities. Nobody was just passing out either football success or that honors GPA in the classroom. While life now as a junior at Oklahoma State includes the best coaching, equipment, and facilities, Richards still isn't taking anything for granted. He pep talks himself every day and with his attention drawing performance on the field this spring, he was invited Wednesday by head coach Mike Gundy to share his philosophy with the team. Gundy has players that earn it speak to their teammates.
What did Richards have to say?
"I just told them that we have to have a competitive edge every day competing to get better and we have to fix our mistakes we make today so we don't make the same mistakes the next practice," Richards answered. "Positive vibes, I tell them to tell themselves they are going to be great. Tell themselves they are going to have a great day. That is what I tell myself and I have a great day."
Oklahoma State did not practice Thursday and will scrimmage on Friday, probably about 100 plays again like last week. Richards was involved on a lot of plays in the Cowboys first scrimmage, but one sequence at the 2-yard line stood out.
On first-and-goal, quarterback Mason Rudolph threw a fade toward the right corner of the end zone to big, post-up target Marcell Ateman. You know Rudolph throws the fade well and Ateman is a basketball-type athlete set to go get it. Richards was physical with his coverage. He was on top of Ateman, and the receiver could hardly get his arms up to go for the football. It was textbook coverage.
The next play, the offense did the same thing, probably figuring Richards couldn't cover the fade that well two plays in a row, but he did. Third-and-goal, Rudolph turned and handed the ball off to one of the back and here came Richards screaming hard from the corner and made the tackle two yards deep in the backfield. It was a highlight-reel sequence, but one Richards now expects out of himself.
"It was, yes sir," said Richards. "That is just how I approach practice now. I tell myself all day that I am going to have a great day and that I'm the best defensive back in the country, and so I go out there and try to practice like it. That is how I feel about myself and my confidence is rising. I tell myself that I am going to make plays and then when the opportunity is there then I make it happen. They threw the two fades and then they ran the ball and I told myself those were plays I was going to make and I did make the plays."
He is starting to perform that way on an everyday basis as after the practice on Wednesday, Gundy, who obviously liked what he saw because he had him speak to the team, mentioned Richards again.
"He's fast and he's understanding. Now he's had enough reps to get a feel and he seems to realize the commitment it takes day in, and day out," Gundy said. "There were three players today, I mentioned one of them in Ramon, but Jhajuan Seales in comparison to Kenneth McGruder, in that both of them competed at a high level. With Seales, I joke with him that he's like a 10-year veteran, and McGruder is new. Both of them have a similar personality on the field and one is a young player that is learning on the field and the other is a veteran that realizes that he has to have a strong commitment in order to get better, even in his last season. Those are guys who I feel have been committed to the team this spring even though they're at different levels in their eligibility."
An attitude that is catching on. It's an attitude that Richards has and what he is trying very hard to spread.
"He's hungry and he has a great attitude everyday," defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. "He's had a very productive spring. He came to my office before spring ball started and we had a nice talk. He told me we were going to see a different Ramon Richards and we have. He has been dialed in every day."
Richards did not play as much last season, 12 games with just one start after being forced into a starting role because of injuries as a true freshman. He admits he wasn't dialed in every day back then. He was still trying to figure out the number to dial.
"I was still trying to distinguish the difference between playing quarterback in high school and play cornerback here," Richards said laughing. "Just as a player, not like I am now, it was totally different."
It is all different now. He has experience, confidence, and he also still has his God-given gifts, athleticism and being smart. Being smart, even book smart, is an advantage on the football field.
"It is a great advantage," Richards confirmed. "It's an advantage to want to learn and to study. I translate my academics to the field and I go upstairs (into the meeting room) and I study formations and video and it kind of translates to help get into position to make certain plays. I'm loving it right now. I'm having a great spring and I can't wait to the second scrimmage on Friday to make more plays."