Boise State defensive tackle Darren Koontz (bottom) tackles Southern Miss running back and former Peabody Magnet star Jalen Richard (30) near the goal line during a game in Hattiesburg, Miss. Richard has rushed for 383 yards and has scored 4 touchdowns in his first season at Southern Miss. Darin Oswald/AP
The former Peabody star running back has thrived in his first collegiate season at Southern Mississippi. Heading into today's season finale at Memphis, Richard is second on the Golden Eagles in rushing yards (383) and rushing touchdowns (4), while averaging an impressive 5.1 yards per carry.
"I came in with the mindset that it would be wide open," said Richard, who also has returned ten kickoffs for 259 yards this season. "That I could possible get playing time. I just really worked my butt off in camp and practice. I worked for my reps."
Richard's football future was uncertain less than 16 months ago.
He earned first-team all-state and All-Cenla honors after rushing for 2,285 yards and 33 touchdowns as a junior in 2010. The following summer, though, Richard suffered a partially torn MCL and was sidelined for his entire senior season.
Instead of breaking tackles on Friday nights, he spent months in intense physical rehabilitation. That time spent away from the football field helped motivate Richard to break into Southern Miss' backfield.
"I trained hard because I was coming off that injury, and I didn't want to sit out another year," said Richard. "It humbled me way down and made me perfect my craft. In that time I was just getting back in the motion of things, to get my muscle memory back. That time period made me patient and taught me how to perfect my craft."
Richard may have become a more patient runner, but he was still not quite prepared for his first college football game in Southern Miss' season opener at Nebraska.
"Talking about butterflies in your stomach," said Richard, about his college debut. "On third down, you couldn't hear anything. I was excited, anxious, worried and sacred. It was mixed emotions. I remember during pregame I was staring at the Jumbotron. I was just in awe because I had made it there."
Richard may have found personal success this season even while the team has struggled to a 0-11 record.
The former Warhorses star, though, feels confident that he and his new team can end the season on a high note.
"It's been kind of up and down, but we've had to stay together as a team," said Richard. "Through this whole process we haven't stopped working hard. I think we are due for a win. We are just going to go out there and get that win."