STRONGSVILLE: If the trend continues, Browns rookie running back Trent Richardson will make the great Jim Brown eat his words.
Richardson, whom Brown called “ordinary” during an interview with ESPN Radio the day of the NFL Draft in April, has a history of proving his critics wrong. Richardson’s will to succeed in the face of skepticism comes from advice his mother, Katrina, gave him, and it’s the underlying theme in the messages he hopes to pass along to about 240 children who are participating in his first youth football camp this weekend at Strongsville High School.
“She always told me to never let nobody tell me what I can’t do,” Richardson said Saturday.
Richardson still hasn’t forgotten a naysayer from his middle school days.
“I had a seventh-grade teacher tell me I wasn’t gonna be nothin’ and I was gonna always be a failure in life,” said Richardson, the third overall pick in this year’s draft. “And look where I’m at now.”
Willie Richardson Jr., Trent’s uncle who offered assistance at the youth camp along with a few other relatives and friends, vividly recalls hearing about the incident. He said his nephew drew the teacher’s ire because he fell asleep in her class.
“She told me the story herself — ‘That boy was sleeping in my class,’ ” Willie Richardson Jr. said, impersonating the teacher. “ ‘I woke him up. I went over there, and I pushed him. I said, boy, what are you doing? You’re gonna never do nothing in your life. What do you plan on doing with the rest of your life?’ He looked up and told her, ‘I’m gonna play in the NFL.’ ”
Richardson’s dreams of becoming a professional football player, though, appeared to be dashed when doctors told him he wouldn’t be able to run again. During his first two years at Escambia High School in Pensacola, Fla., he suffered a torn ligament in each ankle, which had to be surgically repaired.
Through all the pain he experienced while recovering from those injuries, Richardson used the doubt of others as fuel. He played football again as a junior, became a high school star and punched his ticket to the University of Alabama.
“It had a big impact on me,” Richardson said. “For somebody to tell me that I can’t do this or for somebody to tell me I was too fragile in high school … that’s [motivation because] people just counted me out.”
Derrick Boyd, Richardson’s mentor who coached him in track and football at Escambia, witnessed another example of vindication last year.
“I have an 11-foot overhang at my house, and my son ran and jumped off the porch and just swung at it,” Boyd said. “Trent did the same thing and missed. My son was like, ‘Ha, ha, you can’t do it.’ This was the week before the LSU game [on Nov. 5].
“I’m like, OK, this is not gonna end nicely ’cause he’s gonna jump off again and come down and twist his ankle, and I’m gonna have to call [Nick] Saban and say, ‘Coach, Trent twisted his ankle jumping off the porch at my house ’cause it’s 11 feet up.’ He went back on the porch, and he hit the thing.”
Now Richardson can’t wait to show the world he’s far from “ordinary.”
Richardson said he’s eager to meet former Baylor wide receiver Josh Gordon, whom the Browns drafted Thursday in the second round of the NFL’s supplemental draft.
“We’re all gonna embrace him with open arms, and we can’t wait to get him out there,” Richardson said. “I know he’s gonna [make] a big impact on our offense. There’s a lot of high standards he’s gonna set for himself, and there’s gonna be a lot of expectations for him. But at the same time, we’re gonna just treat him like, ‘Hey, you don’t have to live up to all this other stuff. Just play your game and just buy into the program.’ ”
Gordon will join Richardson, quarterback Brandon Weeden, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and receiver Travis Benjamin as the core of the Browns’ rookie class and the foundation for a revamped offense.
“I think with the class that we have, I think we can change the program,” Richardson said.
With the addition of Gordon, the Browns have three rookie draft picks who are unsigned. Richardson and Weeden, the 22nd overall selection, are the others.
Browns General Manager Tom Heckert said Thursday he’s confident Richardson and Weeden will sign in time for training camp, which opens to the public on July 28.
Jeff Nalley, Gordon’s agent, said the same about his client.
“We do not anticipate a problem in getting the contract done on time,” Nalley said by phone.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.