The Curious Case of Paul Richardson

How a Colorado junior went from the police blotter and serious injury to become one of the top receivers in the nation.

It has gone all but unrecognized, but Colorado junior Paul Richardson is having an absolutely superb season. Maybe it’s because he plays for the mediocre Buffaloes, who just picked up their first conference win of the season last weekend in Boulder over Cal. Yet while Colorado has regularly been throttled by Pac-12 opponents, Richardson is quietly distancing himself as one of the top receivers in the nation. All of this is made more interesting when you examine the fact that a year ago Richardson sat on the sidelines with a severe injury and three years ago his football career was in jeopardy because of a run-in with the California police.

Last Saturday produced a rare air of celebration inside the Colorado football program. The Buffs ran over Cal like Ralphie runs over the Folsom Field grass, beating the Bears 41-24 to stop a 14 game conference losing streak. With the final seconds of regulation ticking away, Richardson celebrated by leaping into the front row of the Colorado student section. The junior wide receiver had a lot of reason to celebrate. In the victory Richardson set a new CU single-season record in receiving yards. His eleven catches in the game also tied his own single-game Colorado record, which he sat in 2011 by tallying up 284 yards against the Bears. All of this is more remarkable considering Richardson was playing in the game on a sprained ankle. In fact Richardson has spent the past three weeks battling, and playing, through the injury. Richardson only practiced a part of the week leading up to CU’s win over Cal. He has had to wear a walking boot at times leading up to Colorado’s games. He was ruled inactive in Colorado’s loss to Washington on November 9th but persuaded CU Head Coach Mike MacIntyre to let him play. He caught a 53 yard touchdown pass in the first half before sitting out the second half in the 59-7 drubbing at Seattle. Richardson has struggled with injuries throughout his career in Boulder. His abrupt ACL injury in 2012 may have unfortunately derailed the short and less than memorable tenure of Jon Embree.

In December of 2010, Jon Embree was hired as Colorado’s head coach. He was a former CU player and assistant coach and his hiring was heralded by many Colorado alumni including Bill McCartney, who coached CU to the national championship in 1990. Embree was hoping to return Colorado to those glory days and return some of the tradition to the program that was lost under his predecessor Dan Hawkins.

In 2011, Embree began his CU head coaching career in rocky fashion. The team went 3-10, but did score its first two ever Pac-12 Conference wins and a victory over in-state rival Colorado State. Richardson finished the season among the team leaders in receptions, yards and touchdown catches despite only playing in nine games. He missed four games because of a knee injury.

On April 9th, 2012 Richardson suffered an ACL injury in the final week of spring practice, which ended his season and began the rapid descent of Embree’s program. With Richardson watching from the sidelines, Colorado went 1-11 and Embree was fired.

This season, under 1st-year head coach Mike MacIntyre, Colorado has won four games and, with two games remaining, has a chance to be bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007. Meanwhile, Richardson is in sight of breaking the school single-season records in receptions and touchdown receptions. He leads the team with 1,201 yards receiving and nine touchdown catches. He is 2nd in the Pac-12 in both receptions per game and receiving yards per game. Nationally, Richardson ranks 4th in receiving yards per game and 5th in total receiving yards. He has made some jaw-dropping plays for a lukewarm Buffs team this season, even considering opposing coaches key up on him like Fox News does Obamacare (and Fox News has fared considerably better than defenders against the flash-like Richardson). Whether its Conner Wood or Sefo Liufau under center, both quarterbacks have seemed to find great comfort in seeing #6 streaking down the field.

Richardson was born to play with a pigskin. His father, Paul Sr., played football at UCLA and the NFL before moving his family to California. The younger Richardson attended Los Alamitos and then Serra High School, in Gardena, California becoming a top national prospect. His plan was to follow in his father’s footsteps, accepting a letter of intent to UCLA. He even attended summer classes there, but his troubles at the university began early. The week they began summer classes Richardson, his cousin Shaquille and one other recruit were arrested for stealing a bag from a UCLA student. The three were released of their letters of intent to UCLA. Thus Richardson fell into the lap of Colorado, who had also recruited him. Felony charges against Richardson were later dropped.

Richardson has moved past his troubles at UCLA. He has been mentored this season by former NFL wide receiver Troy Walters and has asked the assistant to personally push him in practices and games to make him better. This season he sent a letter to all CU students asking for their support, a ploy to stave off dwindling attendance at Folsom Field early in the season.

He impressed people in the program with his resolve to return to the field following his season-ending injury. “Paul was relentless in getting well, relentless in pushing back to get going,” MacIntyre told the media before the 2013 season. “When we went out to spring practice he didn’t want to be out of anything. We made him put a gold shirt on at first, and he didn’t want that on. He took it off one day in practice and just went by himself. I think his effort and determination, the players on the team saw that. They know how good of a player he is, but they also saw how hard he worked to get back.”

Richardson is looking to graduate from Colorado with a communications degree. He also a passion for tattoos. His favorite, revealed in an interview with “The Ralphie Report,” is of a young man praying with the words “Driven by Success” beneath.

The question on every Colorado fan’s mind heading into CU’s final home game of the season against USC on Saturday is if this the last time Richardson will play in Boulder? He is definitely on the NFL draft radar. CBSSports.com has him ranked 52nd overall and 7th among wide receivers. Draftsite.com has him going 34th overall to Houston. If he decides to make the leap, Richardson will be an interesting player to watch during the 2014 draft. His talent and athleticism are unquestionable, but his injuries are sure to play a factor in the minds of league general managers.

Regardless of his future, Richardson will go down as one of the most prolific players in Colorado history and what brought him there is an interesting tale of both redemption and resolve.

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