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PROFILE 2010: Sean Richardson

Linden has a reputation. The small town that serves as the seat for Marengo County is known for having an abundance of extremely talented athletes. But for the most part, those athletes watch their careers end at high school or college graduation. Sean Richardson isn’t exactly interested in hearing about all of that.

See, Sean is developing a little bit of a reputation himself. Those in the know about Richardson happen to have high expectations. Vanderbilt coaches and other members of the athletic department think he is almost a sure fire NFL talent.

ESPN.com writer Chris Low apparently is in that camp as well. He named Sean to his list of the Top 10 SEC players no one knew about.

As a sophomore in his first season as a starter, Sean led the SEC in tackles as a defensive back, recording 84 stops despite playing with a cast on his hand for nearly the entire campaign.

Those kind of chops mean that Sean could well break that streak of fantastic Linden athletes not rising above amateur status. But Sean isn’t exactly interested in hearing about that one either.

“We’ll see,” he says shyly. “I think it’s a great possibility. If it is in God’s will and I continue to progress and keep working hard, then hopefully I’ll be able to play at the next level.”

For now, Sean is more interested in the things he can control. He wants to up his tackle numbers. He wants to record his first collegiate interception. He wants to get better at reading opposing offenses. And then there’s his academic goals.

He is a Human Organizational Development major and wants to go into physical therapy.

“I put a big emphasis on (academics),” he says. “That was one of the reasons I had Vandy as one of my top priorities and went ahead and committed because I knew that if football didn’t work out, I’d have that degree from Vanderbilt.”

As fast as the game is in the SEC, academics at Vanderbilt are even faster. That is the place where Sean found the toughest adjustment after arriving in Nashville.

“It takes a lot of time adjustment. You want to make sure you’re going to be eligible at first,” the soft spoken safety says of the tempered expectations young athletes must initially take when enrolling at Vanderbilt. “Once I adjust and learn how to focus, everything sort of slows down and it doesn’t seem as difficult.”

The classroom presented such a big challenge for Sean not only because of Vandy’s high academic standards, but also because he moved from a 1A school with small classes to a Division I university with extensive scholastic requirements.

“It is totally different from high school, a lot more work,” Sean explains.

But faced with the challenge of conquering one of the top academic institutions in the world while simultaneously playing the game of football in the toughest conference in the country, Sean did the same thing he did to find success in high school. He kept his composure and stayed focused.

That calm demeanor coupled with his bright mind and incredible athleticism enabled the 6-2, 205-pound safety to make almost a meteoric rise. It was a little over a year ago that Sean made his first play on a national stage, scoring Vanderbilt’s only touchdown in its bowl game in 25 years. It was the third quarter of the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl when Sean streaked down the LP Field turf in Nashville and dove on a punt that caromed off the knee of Boston College’s Paul Anderson. The heady play gave Sean his only career touchdown to date and Vanderbilt its only bowl victory in his lifetime.

“It was a great moment because I grew up a Tennessee Titan fan,” Sean says of competing on the same turf where childhood heroes like Eddie George and Steven McNair had long played. “When we got the news we were going to get to play in the Music City Bowl, I was excited to even get to play in that stadium. So to play in that stadium, let alone score a touchdown was a great moment.”

For those who follow his career and Vanderbilt athletics, Sean’s ability to grab the starting strong safety job as a sophomore was the natural progression of what has long been expected to be a brilliant career. But to Sean, it was nothing more than affirmation of his methodology.

“It means that I’m picking up on the little things and learning from the older guys,” Sean, who earned the team’s prestigious Hustle Award in 2009, says. “It just shows the different aspects of hard work and learning from others.”

Little more than a year ago, Sean Richardson was covering kicks and punts on special teams. Now, he is regarded as one of the top returning defensive backs in the entire league. With that kind of ascent, it would be easy for any young man get his head spun around at least a little. But Sean still has the same focus that has led him to the cusp of a potential NFL career.

“My parents always tell me, ‘Remember your goals,'” Sean says. “It’s all about composure and staying focused. Just as fast as you have all the fame and all the good things, it can be taken away.”