BEREA: When Trent Richardson and Alfred Morris tell tales about each other playing youth football in Pensacola, Fla., their stories sound like urban legends.
“He was always bigger than everybody else,” Morris said of Richardson. “I remember they would always talk about him. I was like, ‘Who is this kid they’re talking about?’ So I finally saw him. He had the calves of a grown man.”
“Everyone was so scared of him,” Richardson said of Morris. “Nobody would touch him. He was a big guy. He says I was big. He was the biggest dude out there.”
Richardson and Morris frequently squared off on the gridiron and the basketball court when they were growing up. Their rivalry extended into high school, and it will be renewed Sunday when Richardson and the Browns (5-8) host Morris and the Washington Redskins (7-6).
Both rookies are tremendous success stories who come from humble backgrounds and share a hometown with Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith and a fair share of active NFL players. Richardson grew up poor and fatherless and always dreamed of providing for his family. Morris can afford another car now that he’s making $390,000 this season, but he’s sticking with his 1991 Mazda 626 — which he said has about 125,000 miles on its odometer — because he prefers to save money for his family. He still sleeps on the couch when he visits his parents’ home.
“People are just really hungry and want to better their lives and want better for their family,” Richardson said. “Growing up, I always wanted to make sure my mama didn’t have to work again. My mama was working two or three jobs when I was growing up. Seeing my grandma work and [help care] for us, it was nothing but more motivation for me. Pensacola, it’s a place where you can feel like, ‘I’m glad I’m from here because it made me.’ It pushed me to strive for [everything] that I want in life.”
The ambition of Richardson and Morris has earned them prominent roles early in their NFL careers, though their paths to the league differed greatly. Richardson was a highly touted college prospect from the University of Alabama whom the Browns picked third overall on April 26. Morris was overlooked coming out of Florida Atlantic University and drafted in the sixth round (173rd overall).
Now Morris is ranked second among all rookies with 1,228 rushing yards to go along with seven touchdowns. Richardson, who has played through a rib injury since Oct. 14, is third with 869 rushing yards to go along with nine touchdowns. Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin, the 31st overall pick in this year’s draft, leads the pack with 1,234 yards to go along with 10 touchdowns.
“We’re in two totally different situations, two different divisions,” Morris said. “I don’t take pride in having more rushing yards [than Richardson]. I really don’t even think about it. I’m just happy that he’s doing good and that I’m doing good, and just to make it this far coming from where we came from is just an accomplishment in itself.”
“That doesn’t bother me ’cause we’re in different situations,” Richardson said. “Teams are going to have better success than other teams ’cause that’s the league. I’m not the rookie that [has] the most yards. OK, they’re having a good year. That’s fine. I think I’m [having] a pretty good year myself. I’m not saying I’m satisfied. I know I can do better.”
Richardson said he’s not surprised by Morris’ stellar start to his professional career. When Richardson starred at Escambia High School, his team couldn’t match the success of Morris and Pine Forest High School.
“He was the reason why I never made the playoffs,” Richardson said. “Then his little brother [Shawn, who also played running back] was the next reason.”
Morris had the upper hand in the classroom, too.
“He always had great grades,” Richardson said. “I would be mad at him because he had all A’s.”
The 5-foot-9, 230-pound Richardson hopes to turn the tables this weekend, but it won’t be easy. Although the Browns have a three-game winning streak, the Redskins have won four in a row, and their defense is ranked seventh against the run (98.8 rushing yards allowed per game).
The Redskins also could be tough to keep up with. They have the fifth-ranked offense and the top-ranked rushing attack, thanks in large part to the 5-10, 218-pound Morris and rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, who might face the Browns despite mildly spraining his right knee this past weekend.
Richardson had two touchdowns Sunday in the Browns’ 30-7 thrashing of the Kansas City Chiefs, but he finished with 18 carries for just 42 yards. He averaged only 2.3 yards per carry.
“It doesn’t bug me because we won,” Richardson said. “If we didn’t win, it would bug the mess out of me.”
It’s a safe bet Richardson is determined to rebound with a strong showing against his childhood rival.
“I’m going to go 100 percent,” Richardson said. “And I’m going to give everything I can.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com.browns.abj.