As far as running back Trent Richardson was concerned the worst part of summer in Tuscaloosa wasn’t the countless repetitions in the weight room, all the times running up the stairs or the monotony of doing things over and over again during the weeks leading up to the opening of fall camp.
Rather, it was the alarm clock consistently going off before sunrise.
“Oh man,” he said at 6 a.m. one day while on his way to work out with teammates. “It’s more tough because you have get up early morning and get it going. [Strength and conditioning director Scott] Cochran isn’t going to lay back and we’re not going to let Coach Cochran lay back or we’re not going to reach our full potential.”
This is when Richardson and the rest of the Crimson Tide put in the base work and conditioning that could make-or-break the team during the upcoming season. Granted, everyone knew that he was a weight-room junky who posted the kind of numbers that even the biggest and best lineman could be envious of, only his final offseason on the Capstone was different for the Pensacola, Fla., native.
To begin with, there’s the leadership factor. Richardson had become not only the elder statesman of the running backs, but the entire backfield, quarterbacks included.
“Trent’s always been a good leader for us, he really has,” Coach Nick Saban said. “I think lot of players respect him. He’s always been a competitor here, (in the) group leadership program here, he’s been a leader on the field by the way he competes, the kind of person that he is, the way he practices every day, he’s a really good person so he affects the people around him in a positive way.
“I think his role is going to be more significant now that he’s sort of the lead back for us. I think his leadership will have a great impact. I don’t think we’re going to ask him to be anything that he hasn’t been, because he has been very good in all those regards.”
In general, Saban doesn’t just look for players to take ownership of their position group, but have an overall regard for the team’s well-being. That, in addition to leading by example.
Richardson played through a number of injuries as a sophomore in 2011, including torn ligaments in his ankle/foot, a knee sprain that caused him to miss the Mississippi State and Georgia State games and a torn abdominal muscle.
He still finished with 700 rushing yards on 112 carries and six touchdowns, and was fifth in team receiving with 23 receptions for 266 yards and four touchdowns. The rushing yards were actually a bit down from his freshman year when he had 751 on 145 carries and eight touchdowns along with 126 receiving yards on 16 catches (no touchdowns), but Richardson averaged 6.2 yards per carry and was second only to Kentucky’s Randall Cobb in SEC all-purpose yards.
“There hasn’t been a day that I haven’t seen Trent not take a play off,” said sophomore right tackle D.J. Fluker. “He always comes in to work because that’s the kind of guy he is. He always has that go-go attitude.
“That’s what you want to see as a player. He’s showing us that he’s dedicated to the team. He’s bought into it.”
Not only did that rub off on other players, so did things like showing up on time, being accountable and taking others under his wing. As for the rest of the team, he liked what he saw during those early morning workouts.
“Attitude, leadership, everybody is just coming together and trusting one another right now,” Richardson said. “Last year we were a team, but we weren’t a complete team. We used to practice and we used to work hard, but after that we went our separate ways. Now after practice we hang out, we get to know each other. We have that bond. We have that trust. We regained that and respect each other.”
Second, Richardson was taking over as Alabama’s primary ball carrier, replacing former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram II. If he hadn’t been reminded enough of that by the media and fans, Ingram himself kept saying things like “Stay on top of everything,” and “You’re the man now,” while waiting to start his career with the New Orleans Saints.
“I have big shoes that I have to fill,” Richardson said. “Mark was an amazing guy, he was able to do some things than no one was able to do. People that compare me to him, it’s just an honor.
“He taught me all of his knowledge of the game. I’m just trying to take what he had, on top of what I have, what Coach (Burton) Burns and Coach Saban have taught me, all into one. It is a lot of pressure, but at the same time you can’t worry about it.”
Finally, there was the added pressure everyone on the team felt after Tuscaloosa was devastated by a tornado on April 27.
“We have a lot to play for, we have a lot going on,” Richardson said. “If we were to make it (to a championship), this team right here, it would mean so much to so many people. The older guys you don’t have to say anything because they know what’s going on. Myself? I remind myself all the time, you have so much you’re fighting for. It’s my family that I’m fighting for. Basically I’m trying to get the team on my back and we’re going to ride.
“I just want to go out and dominate every time I get on the field.”
Here’s how well he did: Alabama won the national championship, his second, and Richardson was a Heisman Trophy finalist and won the Crimson Tide’s first Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back.
His 1,679 rushing yards set the Alabama single-season rushing record, the 2,083 all-purpose yards established another Crimson Tide record, and the 24 total touchdowns tied the SEC single-season record (Shaun Alexander, 1999). His 144 points scored were significantly more than the Crimson Tide defense allowed all season (106).
Some of this post originated from "100 Things Crimson tide Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die," published by Triumph Books