Growing up a Cowboy

This is a sample story from the Bowl Preview issue of the O-State Sports Report magazine. <BR><BR> The late afternoon sun was bearing down on the Astroplay surface of Boone Pickens Stadium in early July. The sweat soaked players were in the fourth quarter of a new conditioning workout the OSU strength staff called a "simulated game."

The players followed instructions, carrying out specific maneuvers one after another with brief rest between the simulated plays. Even the Cowboys in the best shape were being tested by the new drill in the severe heat. Some players were bent over at the goal line of the stadium's west end. One voice was heard loud and clear.

"Nobody rests. There will be plenty of time to rest in January after the bowl," yells senior defensive end Greg Richmond. "Nobody rests, not now."

On those instructions the players stand at attention and prepare for their next instructions. Richmond exchanges encouragement with fellow seniors Antonio Smith and Khreem Smith, and then makes his way down to freshmen Brad Girtman and Marque Fountain to make sure new players are OK and ready to push on. In future years it will be Girtman and Fountain who will be taking over that role and the example they will follow is the one set for them in the Oklahoma heat by Richmond. Richmond has left a lot to this program he loves. The memories of 12 1/2 sacks from this past season and 21 1/2 sacks in his career. Memories of the countless tackles made at, near, or many times behind the line of scrimmage. Memories of the enthusiasm that Richmond has for this game that was evident even to the orange clad fans sitting on the last row. Richmond loves Oklahoma State and is one of the select players who realizes he wants to give back to a place that has given him much more than Saturday afternoon glory.

"It's a great feeling to have come up to this university a boy and leaving as a man," said the 6-foot-2, 240-pound defensive end. "I have learned so much from my peers, and learned a lot about being a football player and a lot about life from the coaching staff."

Richmond's account can be marked paid in full before the Cotton Bowl even kicks off. The Cowboys are heading to Dallas in great part because of Richmond's on-the-field performance. His sacks against Kansas State and Texas Tech were significant highlights in two of the Cowboys' most important wins this season. His pair of sacks early against Kansas established momentum in that late season win. His leadership helped push the Cowboys to their first January bowl game in 54 years.

He was right, there will be plenty of time to rest after the bowl game. Richmond will tell you the goal that he and his teammates have been working toward started when they arrived at Oklahoma State as freshmen, when bowl games weren't exactly goals but more like dreams.

"The down times, they were rough," said Richmond of his early years in Stillwater. "Then to see this university and this football team just pick up and become one of the elite teams in the Big 12 Conference was a great feeling for me. We're not at the bottom of the barrel anymore and to have turned this program around and get it heading in the right direction is one of the things that I will most remember from my time at OSU." Just as Richmond has become an example for young Cowboy players, he had his examples and his leaders. Many of us aren't smart enough to understand how people can push us and help us until many years down the line. Richmond can quickly take stock of his mentors, almost as quick as he's on a quarterback's blindside.

"First of all, when I first came Richard Wilson was a big influence on me. Now he's at Minnesota as the wide receivers coach," said Richmond of the first coach that impacted him at Oklahoma State. "He was one of the guys who took a chance and gave me a scholarship.

"During the coaching change, Bill Clay was a great influence on me in becoming more mature, and coming to do what I set to do at this university and that's become a student-athlete. He just really opened my eyes, and he was really tough on me when he first came to the campus. The first thing he did was move me to defensive end and that was hard for me to accept because I didn't think that I got a chance to show him I was a good linebacker. I just took the punches and rolled with them. Coach Clay was a guy who rode me. Also, (former assistant coach) Calvin Miller was a guy who just rode me and rode me. He started on my tail and never let up. I'm just glad they did, and I thank God for them."

One of the qualities that draws teammates to Richmond is that while many of today's athletes talk about "old school" – the Oklahoma City Douglass product really does bring "old school" values to the 2003 Cowboys. Playing word association with Richmond is revealing of his throwback beliefs.

Richmond on pride.

"It's standing up for what you believe in. Pride is everything. I learned pride when I was at Douglass High School from Stanford White (head football coach) and Willie Kelly (head basketball coach). That's what they always talked about, having pride in yourself, pride for your family, your school and your team. That's why we go out every Saturday wearing an Oklahoma State Cowboy uniform – to play with pride and to be a respectable group of young men." Richmond on loyalty.

"Just staying committed to what you set forth to do. Stay focused on what you have to do, and never turn your back on anyone that you have committed yourself to. That's also committing yourself to the university. You don't want to sign a scholarship and then two or three days later feel that you want to transfer somewhere. Loyalty is everything. Without loyalty there is nothing."

Richmond on sacrifice.

"Sacrifice is something as a player, we have a lot of talented guys who are good enough to play both sides of the ball, but that is something they have to sacrifice for the team, to become one piece of the puzzle and do what is asked of them. Lower themselves and raise the team up. Allow the team to enjoy the glory and give up your identity so that the team is successful."

All of those personal definitions make Richmond out to be acutely serious, but this is the same Greg Richmond who has one of the best laughs on the Cowboy squad, the same Greg Richmond who has been watched closely by officials for an extracurricular conversation after a tackle. "I can't do any talking this year because those guys tell me to shut up before I even say a word," said the one-time trash talker.

He's proud of his accomplishments, like being a unanimous All-Big 12 selection at defensive end. He wanted to be a first team All-American but will settle for being mentioned as an All-American. He is wise enough to cherish the moments with teammates off the field.

"The funniest things are just laughs with the guys," said the one-time jokester. "It's just all types of random stuff that goes on. I've had so many experiences up here meeting different personalities from all over the state of Oklahoma and all over Texas. It's just been a lot of stuff that's been said and is real funny. I'll just always enjoy the stuff that goes on in the locker room. There's a lot of things that go on in the locker room that I'll always remember the rest of my life."

Most of all, he'll remember the friendships. He calls being elected a captain this season the greatest honor he could have, but at a time when many departing seniors promise to keep in touch with each other only to fall short of that promise the first few months you get the feeling that Richmond will stay connected. He says he is determined to keep up with many of his teammates. "Right off the top, just my roommates that I've lived with and we all came in together – Elbert Craig, Timmy Burrough and myself. We were three guys who came in together, and we were at the bottom of the barrel when we came in, and those guys I love them like my brothers just like we had the same mother and father. We grew up together up here. That's why I say I came here a little boy and I'm leaving a man. Those guys were a great influence on my life. When my father died they were with me when I was at my lowest. Those are guys that I will never forget or lose touch with," Richmond said.

"I also have some underclassman guys that I keep in contact with like Daniel McLemore, Marque Fountain, Trumaine Carroll, Darrent Williams, and guys like that just to name a few. Chijuan Mack, I really like those guys and I just jell with them. It was so easy when they came on their visits and now that they are on the team I care for them just like they are my brothers, too. There are going to be a lot of guys that I am going to make a great effort, if I can, to keep in contact with."

Richmond hopes to continue to set an example for some of those young Cowboy players. Remember his definition of sacrifice – putting the team above your own goals. Richmond has done that most of his Oklahoma State career, even his favorite sack was more of a team situation in one of last season's highlight wins over Nebraska..

"Against Nebraska out there on Lewis Field, a key drive in the fourth quarter, and I broke in there to sack Jammal Lord for an eight-yard loss on second down," described Richmond. "That put them at third-and-long and set it up for Khreem Smith to come in and make another sack. That just put their backs against the wall and they had no more fight in them. I'd have to say that was my favorite sack."

In the coming months he will get selfish to achieve a goal that he eventually hopes will benefit some of those younger players. Richmond wants to play in the NFL.

"That's my dream, that's my goal, that's one of my short-term goals that I have set for myself. I want to become an NFL draft pick, and I'm working as hard as I can to get there. That's one of my first options when I leave Oklahoma State. I want to become an NFL football player, and guys can see me and raise their level of play so that they might be on the same stage."

His chances may have been better as a linebacker as most NFL defensive ends are bigger than 6-2, 240, but don't bet against him.

Richmond would make an excellent politician, his leadership qualities outrank a lot of those serving in public office today.

"That's something I've never thought about," said a surprised Richmond. "If I were called upon I'd run head first with it and be the best politician I could be. Right now that's not something I think I want to do, but if that's in the future I would love to do it."

In the meantime, Richmond has a prophecy to fulfill, one that he pushed on his tired, cotton-mouthed teammates back in the summer sun – a bowl game. It's a chance to team up with his guys on another sack or two. The target is big time too, the kind of glory that an old school player can appreciate, a Heisman Trophy finalist with a famous football name at a traditional Southern school.

"Eli Manning is one of the finalists for the Heisman Trophy and they are going to let him put the ball in the air," said Richmond of the opposing quarterback in the Cotton Bowl. "I have a lot of respect for him and I don't even know him. I am a big fan of the Indianapolis Colts and I'm a fan of his big brother (Peyton Manning).

"It's going to be an honor for me to go out there and play against Eli Manning. I'm looking forward to going out there and competing against him, seeing what kind of athlete he is and what type of competitor he is. I know we're going to go out there and give it our best shot to try and be bowl champions."

There's no doubt about that. Greg Richmond has never left his teammates any room to doubt.

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