Arizona Football: Wildcat feeling the burn

2011-09-15T00:00:00Z 2012-11-30T13:47:40Z Arizona Football: Wildcat feeling the burnRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 15, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Shaquille Richardson doesn't remember the guy's name, only that he played wide receiver at Pierce Junior College in Los Angeles and signed a letter of intent with Arizona State.

And that, for a few weeks, the unnamed player absolutely owned him.

"I got beat every play, time and time again," he said with a smile.

Richardson was a high school cornerback and "getting good," he says, when a personal trainer pitted him against the college player for 1-on-1 drills. Richardson struggled at first, overwhelmed by his opponent's speed and size, before finding his footing and - eventually - improving.

The same thing is happening again this season to Richardson, an Arizona Wildcats sophomore who will start Saturday against No. 6 Stanford at Arizona Stadium.

Two weeks after Northern Arizona quarterback Cary Grossart torched the UA secondary for 16 consecutive completions and a week after getting exposed by Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, Richardson - who was forced into a starting job three weeks ago - is at a crossroads in his young career.

The Wildcats will need him to improve if they hope to challenge Stanford, Oregon and USC in the next three weeks. Arizona is allowing 288 passing yards per game, figures that are 10th in the Pac-12 and 102nd out of 120 Division I teams.

Richardson, 19, has been the major target of opposing offenses through two games. He has surrendered three touchdowns. Richardson leads the team with 17 tackles - a bad sign given that all of them have come chasing receivers.

There's good news, secondary coach Ryan Walters said: The first two games "have shook off the jitters a little bit."

"Shaq's shown splashes of being a great player; you've just got to be confident," he said. "Anytime you're playing against these caliber of players, you have to have a short memory, which I think he's learning. He's played against the best; he can breathe easy now and focus on being a fundamentally sound football player. …

"Sometimes, you have to go through the fire to be the player you're capable of becoming."

There's no question that the 6-foot-1-inch, 180-pound Richardson has the physical skills to be a stellar college player. Scout.com listed him as a three-star recruit and the nation's No. 26 cornerback as a senior at Los Alamitos (Calif.) High School.

He verbally committed to UCLA, and enrolled there last summer, before being arrested along with two teammates on suspicion of stealing a woman's purse. Coach Rick Neuheisel kicked all three players off the team; Richardson enrolled at the UA a few weeks later.

Richardson played in all 13 games, starting three, as a true UA freshman in 2010. He finished with 29 tackles and intercepted two passes. He forced and recovered a fumble, and broke up seven passes.

Along the way, Richardson built a reputation for being physically gifted and mentally tough. It's why coaches opted to move him into the starting role when Jonathan McKnight, arguably the team's top defender, suffered torn knee ligaments three weeks ago.

And it's why Richardson believes he can turn around an impossibly rough situation.

He doesn't have much time.

"I'm not used to getting beat, but mentally, I can take an 'L' and come back and win," he said. "… Losing against the best helps me learn what I've got to do to win against the best."

Up next

• What: Stanford at Arizona

• Where: 7:45 p.m. Saturday

• When: ESPN; 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)

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