The undrafted rookie from Indiana has been one of the standout playmakers in the first week of training camp, flashing daily as an athletic pass-rusher in the middle of the line. But both he and veteran teammate Kevin Williams, who has taken Richardson under his wing, have talked about his tendency to rush things and get a little undisciplined.
“I don’t want to fall into the crowd,” Richardson said of his eagerness (perhaps his overeagerness) to get noticed. “So I just gotta make myself stand out any way I can. I just try to get as many reps as possible.”
In a sense, Richardson is trying to make up for lost time after his football career started late in high school, and almost never got started at all.
Richardson admitted that his life was on the wrong track, when he wasn’t focused on the right things and was hanging out with the wrong people. He went to three different high schools before finally straightening things out as a senior at football power Plant High School in Tampa, Florida, which led to an offer from Indiana.
Richardson said he battled academic issues in high school that kept him off the field and a disciplinary issue with a coach that got him released from one team as a junior before he finally realized he needed to turn things around and get his life right with God.
“I realized at the time, like, ‘This is not the life I was supposed to be living.’ And I got it fixed immediately, and it played out for the better,” said Richardson, who said his father was a guiding influence for him.
“It was one line I remember he told me after I was off the team and I had one year left, he just said, ‘What now?’ And that just struck me, ‘I got one year left to get it all together,’” Richardson said.
Richardson went on to earn a starting job as a freshman at Indiana and wound up being elected a captain by his senior year. He finished his college career with 11 sacks, 22 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles while playing both end and tackle in 4-3 and 3-4 alignments.
Richardson, who was invited to the NFL scouting combine, was disappointed when he went undrafted. But he said he was prepared for the possibility.
“It was just the hand I was dealt. So I gotta move on from that,” Richardson said. “I can’t live in the past. I just gotta make the best of what I got.”
Richardson said other teams called, but he felt like the Saints wanted him most after talking with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and defensive line coach Bill Johnson.
And sure enough, the Saints have been giving Richardson a legitimate opportunity to crack the roster and make an impact. The Saints don’t have much experienced depth behind starters Cameron Jordan, Akiem Hicks, Williams and John Jenkins. So they’re counting on one or two young players to emerge as part of the rotation.
Richardson and fifth-round draft pick Tyeler Davison have been among the standout backups so far. Richardson has rotated in with the first-string defense quite a bit -- even getting an apparent sack against Drew Brees at one point.
“I had to work for that [opportunity with the starters]. But I’m just glad with my choice, because [the Saints] were one of the teams I felt gave me a real opportunity to show what I have,” Richardson said. “So I’m just trying not to waste the opportunity.”