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Richardson named on ESPN list of unheralded players

An ESPN.com article published Thursday morning lists Linden High alum and Vanderbilt sophomore Sean Richardson among the names of some of the fastest rising athletes in SEC football. The piece, written by Chris Low, focuses on the under-the-radar players who turn in big seasons. His list is a look back at a group he calls “The SEC’s 10 best players nobody knew about.”

Richardson ranks sixth on Low’s rundown, behind names such as Tennessee running back Montario Hardesty, Alabama safety Mark Barron, Auburn wide receiver Darvin Adams and Crimson Tide quarterback Greg McElroy.

“After playing in Reshard Langford’s shadow as a freshman, Richardson started all 12 games at strong safety as a sophomore and led all SEC defensive backs with 84 tackles,” Low writes of the Vanderbilt safety. “He established himself as one of the best tackling safeties in the league.”

Being named among such athletes came as surprise to Richardson.

“It’s a great feeling to be even mentioned on a list of the Top 10 unknowns coming into the season,” Richardson said. “It takes a lot of hard work for you to get that recognition. You have to go out and showcase your talent.”

Regarded as a virtual unknown, Richardson made his first major impact at the tail end of his freshman season. After spending the majority of the year covering kicks on special teams, Richardson recovered a muffed punt in the end zone to score Vanderbilt’s only touchdown in the Music City Bowl, helping the Commodores to their first bowl win in his lifetime.

With the departure of Langford, Richardson appeared the odds-on favorite to take the starting strong safety gig as a sophomore. Entering the season, Richardson was admittedly nervous.

“I’ve improved a lot from rooming with Ryan Hamilton, who was a senior this year. He told me to not worry about messing up and just play fast and hard. Ryan being beside me really helped,” Richardson said. “As the season progressed, I started learning a lot on my own. In the last three or four games, I really understood the game and how people approach it. I went from just sitting there and doing my job to understanding the offense and what they were doing.”

Richardson finished his sophomore campaign with 84 total tackles, including 4.5 for loss. That mark was good enough for third highest on the team and first overall among defensive backs in the SEC.

“I was aware of it,” Richardson said of his climb toward that distinction. “Toward the end of the season, my coaches told me that I had a chance — if I continue to play hard like I always do — to lead the SEC in tackles for a defensive back.”

Richardson said working toward the feat became a friendly competition between himself and teammate Brent Trice, who finished the year with 82 tackles.

“We motivated each other. It benefitted the team,” Richardson said.

The achievement might never have happened had it not been for the former Patriot’s determination. After opening the year with four total tackles against East Carolina, Richardson tore a tendon in his thumb the second week of the year against LSU. The injury occurred on a play in which Richardson was blitzing. He stumbled as he went to evade a running back who had been set up to block. Richardson stuck his hand in the ground to catch himself and injured his hand.

“With me playing injured with the cast the whole season, it was pretty tough for me to even secure a tackle,” Richardson said. Still, his ability to bring down opposing ball carriers is something in which he takes a lot of pride. So Richardson was determined to find a way to work through the injury.

“It has a lot to do with determination and hustling,” he said. “I won the (Vanderbilt team) hustle award. It is attributed to how hard I practice and how hard I play.”

As he looks toward his junior campaign, Richardson has yet to identify personal goals, but is determined that he will improve his game.

“I haven’t set aside any personal, individual goals yet, but I want to win football games and have fun. I just want to be a great leader and win football games,” Richardson said. “All the other stuff will fall in place. I never thought about being the leading tackler in the secondary or anything, I just tried to play hard.”