Bound For Bronco Brawl

Kent Richardson emerged as West Virginia's starting boundary corner. Now the second round of battles begin - this time in the spotlight.

Richardson, who played in 11 games as a specialist last season, is primed to start in the Sept. 1 opener against Western Michigan. That's a major contrast to last season, when the 6-1, 195-pounder was largely forgotten while the coaching staff started Larry Williams, Vaughn Rivers and Antonio Lewis and added newcomers Boogie Allen and Guesly Dervil to the mix. He made just three tackles, and it seemed a sure bet that the then-freshman wouldn't see major playing time until after Williams, Rivers and Lewis exhausted their eligibility this season.

It took Richardson longer than other players to get a true feel and understanding of the Mountaineers' 3-3-5 odd stack defense. But when it clicked, the Tallahasse, Fla. native began making plays. He has yet to stop, often "sticking his face on someone," as head coach Rich Rodriguez would say, which makes Richardson a perfect boundary candidate because the slot has more run-game responsibilities than the field corner counterpart – currently Williams – but can get away with having lesser cover skills because of the yardage differences.

"It's not easy to just go in there and play," Richardson said. "There is a lot more to playing defense in college than in high school. Right now, we are competing and are all flying around making plays, getting ready for the first game."

Rivers, a veteran in every capacity at WVU, having returned kickoffs and punts and appeared in 37 career games, said he has confidence that Richardson can man the boundary spot, one of the most demanding outside of the bandit in the odd stack secondary.

"He is physical and real fundamental, too," Rivers said. "He does what he needs to do. He holds down his position and takes care of his responsibility. He will put a hat on you. He isn't afraid to lay it on somebody."

It's that physicality which was originally noticed by West Virginia's staff. Richardson runs a 4.5 flat 40-yard dash and was listed as a speedy corner coming out of James Rickards High. He was a first-team all-state selection and made 75 tackles with seven interceptions, two blocked punts and a forced fumble as a senior. Always around the ball, it was not only his finishing of plays that was impressive, but his ability to fit up into the run game. He could gain ground quickly on prep ball carriers, fight off blocks and use his size and tenacity to slow opposing offenses. It seemed a solid fit for the Mountaineers' scheme, which prides itself on stuffing the run.

"I am kind of an overall player," Richardson said. "I think I can play the deep ball pretty good and come up and stop the run when needed. I need to step my game up a bit now, sharpen up for the season."

Richardson plays zone especially well, and will continue to compete with Rivers and newcomer Anthony Wood, a junior college transfer from Lackawanna who is in much the same situation as Richardson was last season. And because of the schematic changes to the defense and the movement of many players in camp – Eric Wicks has played the free safety and bandit positions, and newcomer Ryan Mundy, backed by Allen, has emerged as the starter at free to relegate former starter Quinton Andrews to third-team status – coordinator Jeff Casteel noted that as far as the players working together and meshing in the secondary, West Virginia was "really still in a camp mode in a little bit with that. We will put some guys in there and they will do a good job."

The team, and Richardson, have one week before they will be tested by a Western Michigan offense that spreads the field and will force West Virginia's secondary to cover effectively. The MAC champions, which defeated Virginia last season and lost at Florida State by a single score (28-20), ranked just 64th in scoring offense, but managed four-plus touchdowns in half their games. It's a better-than-expected opener that should both test and prepare the Mountaineers and Richardson for future foes.

"Nobody has come out and worked harder in this fall camp than the secondary," linebacker Mortty Ivy said. "Before, everybody was not making the plays that needed to be made. Now we are getting more turnovers and interceptions and making plays now. It has to carry over into the game."

For Richardson, that will be a first-time experience in terms of starting.

"He is still young, but he has come a long way as a youngster," Rivers said. "He is just about there. He has had game experience and that is what it will take, getting a few games under his belt. I think he will definitely be ready."

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