Trent Richardson had already been counting down the days to the 2011 football season.
As much as he respected Mark Ingram and as much as he learned from Alabama’s only Heisman Trophy winner, Richardson was like any other running back.
He yearned to be “the man,” to carry it 20 or 25 times a game and see just where he could take the Crimson Tide in what may well be his final season at the Capstone.
On April 27 of this year, Richardson’s perspective on football and what it means to play the sport that he loves so dearly changed in a way that he still has a hard time describing.
Not a day has gone by that Richardson hasn’t thought back to the devastating tornado that ripped through Tuscaloosa, killing 41 people and flattening everything in its path.
It still seems like a horrible nightmare to Richardson, who was sleeping when the storm hit.
“When it was over, I just started calling and texting everybody I could think of, to make sure they were OK,” Richardson recalled. “Even now, when you drive around the parts of town where the tornado hit, it just takes your heart away.
“It shows you another side of life, a side that we as football players probably don’t think about enough. One day, you’re here, and the next day, you’re gone.
“You better make every day count.”
The killer tornado last month wasn’t the only tragedy that the Alabama football program has had to endure this spring.
On May 12, offensive tackle Aaron Douglas was found dead in Fernandina Beach, Fla. Douglas, a junior college transfer, had participated in spring practice with the Crimson Tide, but had yet to play in a game.
More than 30 Alabama players attended his memorial service in Knoxville, Tenn., along with coach Nick Saban and countless other team officials. Richardson also desperately wanted to be there, but was in Louisiana attending the college graduation ceremonies of his older brother, Terrell, a former player at Louisiana-Lafayette.
“We’ve got a lot to play for this year. A lot has happened,” Richardson said somberly. “There are a lot of people hurting out there that are a part of our family. All we can do is play for them, and I can promise you that’s what we’re going to do.”
So more than ever -- and for reasons that never really hit home in the past -- Richardson is itching to get back onto the field. But the difference is that it’s about much more than just him or any of his teammates this coming season.
“We can’t wait until this season,” Richardson said. “We know how much this season means to a lot of people in Alabama, and we also know those folks need us. If we can bring a little bit of joy to their lives, that’s what we plan on doing.
“We can’t bring anybody back, but we can do our part on the field. Those are the people we’re playing for this year. I want them to know that we’re here for them.
“We’re going to put Alabama on our back, run with it and take a shot at that title.”