Something to talk about

Published 6:31 pm Friday, January 2, 2009

Vanderbilt had not been to a bowl game in freshman Sean Richardson’s lifetime. Moreover, the much-maligned program had not won a postseason game since 1955.

Richardson and his teammates knew those facts well. They also refused to place any stock in them.

“We’re going to be around for a little while,” Richardson said of the Commodores. “We’re taking that next step. The guys feel like they can compete. They’re motivated.”

That motivation showed Wednesday in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl when Vandy ended its bowl victory drought with a 16-14 win over Boston College. For Richardson, a former Linden High School standout, the afternoon could not have gone any better.

“Everything worked out perfect because as a young child I grew up watching the Tennessee Titans and I always wanted to be a Titan,” Richardson said of his excitement of getting to play at LP Field, the same facility where the Titans play their home games. “Never could have imagined it. It worked out perfectly, perfect place, perfect time.”

That seemed to be the order of the day for Richardson, who scored his first collegiate touchdown during the game.

With his team down 7-6 and 10:44 remaining on the third quarter clock, Richardson streaked down the field as part of the punt coverage unit. The punt deflected off of BC return man Dominick LeGrande, making it a live ball.

While a pair of his teammates looked to down the ball inside the five, Richardson alertly recognized the ball was live and dove on it as it rolled into the end zone.

“It was a great moment,” Richardson said of the play, which took some time for the game’s officiating crew to sort out. “I just knew it was a touchdown because I saw the ball hit the opponent. As the referees were going over what really happened, I heard them say ‘touchdown.’”

“I just looked over to my wife, ‘Sean just scored a touchdown,’” Sean’s father Ricky Richardson, who was watching the game, said. “It’s a good feeling.”

Sean’s score proved to be the Commodores’ only trip to the end zone in the contest as all 16 Vanderbilt points were scored by the special teams units.

“It’s a great experience to be a part of a system where they haven’t won a bowl game in a long time,” Sean said. “It just shows how the system is taking the next step.”

For Sean, the moment marked the perfect culmination of a demanding freshman season in which he spent time working out at strong safety and free safety while helping the Commodores on special teams.

“Whatever the coach prefers and thinks I can do to help the team, I’m there,” Sean said.

When he arrived at Vanderbilt in June, the coaching staff moved Sean from his projected strong safety position to free safety. When workouts resumed in July, the decision was made to shift Sean back to strong safety.

“We went through a couple scrimmages and practices,” Sean said. “I guess they could tell the kind of intensity and passion I play with on the field.”

When school started, Sean faced the hefty tasks adjusting to the speed of Southeastern Conference football and adapting to academic life at one of the nation’s most renowned institutions.

“The game is going a lot faster, especially at the beginning of the season. You have to learn the concept of the game. Once you learn the concept of the game, it begins to slow down,” Sean said. “It’s really hard because by you being a student-athlete, you have to get your lesson and then think about football. You have to balance that out.”

Still, Sean said his adjustment period was much simpler because of the presence of Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson.

“He’s a great coach,” Sean said. “He’s not only a coach, but he’s the type of person that sees you outside of football. He always preaches you are a student before an athlete.”

“I am very proud of him. The education was a key thing too. I’m just proud of him,” Ricky said. “As a father, you’re always pushing him to get better. It’s really a blessing. I thank God he’s been doing as well as he’s been doing. I’m tickled to death.”

With the season over, Sean has taken the opportunity to sit back, reflect on his freshman campaign and evaluate his performance.

“B minus,” Sean said, grading his own body of work. “There’s a lot of room for improvement. As the season went along, I started progressing and improving and helping the team out a little bit more.”

Sean said his goals for next season are simple.

“Just to be productive on the football field and help the team out in anyway possible,” Sean said.

While his productivity on the field at Vanderbilt has been measurable, there may be no way to quantify the potential impact Sean could have on future classes of Linden players.

“I hope it does a lot. I hope that the younger guys will understand that it’s possible to come from a little town like Linden and even Marengo County (as a whole),” Sean said. “It opened up the doors for a lot of younger players. A lot of good players have come through Marengo County. I’m not the first one. The recruiting coaches just have to recognize it. I hope I did a pretty decent job of representing Marengo County.”