BEREA: For Trent Richardson, the pressure of following in Emmitt Smith’s footsteps was inescapable.
Richardson tried to carve his own path while playing running back at Escambia High School, which produced all-time NFL rushing leader Smith.
But every time people heard that Richardson was from Pensacola, Fla., he said, their response was, “Oh, you got Emmitt Smith from there.”
“You’re playing at Emmitt Smith’s high school, there’s tremendous incentive to do the same thing, if not better,” said Escambia track coach Derrick Boyd, Richardson’s mentor.
“Being from the same hometown and from the same school, you have no choice,” Richardson said of the comparisons.
Because of that, Smith stayed in the background until Richardson became a star at Alabama. But when it became apparent Richardson would be a first-round draft choice just like Smith, the 17th overall pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 1990, Smith stepped forward to offer advice.
“He let Trent grow up on his own and not be a major influence or a distraction,” Boyd said of Smith in a recent telephone interview. “Now Emmitt is providing a little bit more guidance.”
The two got together at the Doak Walker awards after last season. Hall of famer Smith will remain in Richardson’s corner.
“Our relationship is pretty strong,” said Richardson, who was, selected third overall by the Browns on Thursday. “He always tells me that anything I need, ‘make sure you come and talk to me and make sure you use me as best you can.’ That dude, he is tremendous when it comes to knowing this game of football and building a relationship with people.”
Florida’s 5A player of the year as a senior, Richardson shattered some of Smith’s high school marks. Now Smith provides more goals for Richardson, like his NFL records for rushing yards (18,355) and rushing touchdowns (164).
“He is always telling me, ‘Just be you and just stay humble. Don’t worry about all of the bad and all of the clutter. Don’t let that get into your head,’?” Richardson said of Smith. “He always told me, ‘I am the leading rusher and records are meant to be broken, so come get me.’?”
While the Browns weren’t putting those lofty expectations on Richardson, President Mike Holmgren hopes Richardson can emulate the success of another Alabama product, running back Shaun Alexander, who played for Holmgren with the Seattle Seahawks in 2000-07.
Drafted 19th overall, Alexander set a host of Seahawks records, including career rushing yards (9,429) and touchdowns (112), single-game rushing yards (266 against. Oakland in 2001) and most 1,000-yard seasons (five). Seattle made the playoffs from 2003 to 2007 and reached the Super Bowl in 2005, when Alexander rushed for 1,880 yards and 27 TDs.
“I hope he does what Shaun did for us. That would be nice,” Holmgren said Saturday. “But they are really quite different backs.
“I love Shaun. If I could adopt Shaun I would, but he wouldn’t block anybody, nobody. He was one of the great runners I’ve ever seen. But Trent is an excellent pass receiver, not just a willing blocker but a very, very good blocker.”
Holmgren said that will be a big advantage in Browns coach Pat Shurmur’s offense.
“When Pat’s calling the game, you don’t have to be thinking, ‘How do we protect him in the passing game?’?” Holmgren said. “I have great affection for Shaun Alexander and what he did for Seattle and what he did for me. This young man, there is no reason he can’t do the same for us here.”
Richardson makes no secret of his love of pass blocking, instilled at an early age.
“Pass blocking is fun for me because growing up I was always the shortest,” said Richardson, who is 5-foot-10½ and 224 pounds. “All of my brothers were bigger than me, so I had to do something to make sure they stopped beating up on me all of the time.
“It comes natural to me. That is the fastest way to put yourself on the bench, if you do not know how to block, and I want to be an every-down back. If they need me to be in the game for special teams, if they want me to be the [punt protector], I am going to be the PP. I don’t want to leave the field. I want to be one of those guys that is always going to have his name remembered in the National Football League.”
Somewhere Smith is nodding his head in approval.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.