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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Shaq making the best of it

Shaq+making+the+best+of+it
Peter Bernal 520.979.4691

Sometimes things don’t go as planned, but for Shaquille Richardson, the unexpected couldn’t have turned out better.

The 6-foot-1, 180-pound freshman cornerback wasn’t expected to start Saturday against Washington State, with starter Trevin Wade supposedly returning from a thigh injury.

But Wade couldn’t go, and Richardson went out and snatched two interceptions, collected seven tackles and earned a game ball and Pacific 10 Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors.

“”To see Shaquille (Richardson) come and play so well, not knowing he was even going to start was a pleasant experience,”” said head coach Mike Stoops. “”I think being able to play and hold up as well against some pretty good receivers, I was pretty pleased with that.””

Saturday’s game wasn’t the only instance where things didn’t go as planned for Richardson. The Carson, Calif., native wasn’t even supposed to be a Wildcat in 2010 – he was all set to play in UCLA’s Rose Bowl on Saturdays for head coach Rick Neuheisel.

But along with receiver Paul Richardson (his cousin) and linebacker Josh Shirley, the freshman corner was dismissed from the team after being involved in an on-campus theft in June.

The trio was arrested for felony theft of a student’s bag, and each had to post $20,000 bail. But because Richardson had yet to practice with the Bruins, he was able to turn that baby blue and gold into cardinal and navy and join Arizona.

Considering Richardson’s instant playing time and Arizona’s 5-1 record compared to the Bruins’ 3-3 record, the freshman is forever thankful.

“”Blessing from God that I ended up here and was able to compete as soon as I got here,”” Richardson said. “”I’m just grateful and blessed.””

Since the day he stepped on the Arizona practice field, Richardson has impressed. Stoops said on the second day of training camp that Richardson was “”as good a corner I’ve coached at this young stage.””

And after his performance Saturday, Stoops’ praise elevated even more.  

“”He’s just a unique player,”” he said. “”He’s got a great frame, great speed, great hips, great quickness for a corner, and he competes and understands the game very well for such a young age.””

Richardson admitted he was also chewed out during Saturday’s game as freshman receiver Marquess Wilson burned him for an 83-yard grab. But it’s still a learning process for the 18-year-old.

“”Shaq, he’s a great competitor,”” said junior starting corner Robert Golden. “”He still has some maturing to do, but I feel like he’s going to be a great player here at Arizona.””

Richardson is undoubtedly on the right path, which he hopes will be that of his football idol and former Arizona Wildcat corner Antoine Cason. Richardson wears No. 5 because of Cason, who currently plays corner for the San Diego Chargers.

“”I’m trying to do the things that (Cason) did, hopefully surpass if I’m capable of doing that,”” Richardson said.

So far so good for Richardson, as the last Arizona player to collect two interceptions and earn Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week in his first collegiate start was none other than Cason.

The freshman has the skill set to get playing time and compete, and he knows it.  

“”You got to be confident,”” Richardson said. “”You don’t guess. You got to just know and just react to whatever happens. You’ve got to be confident in what you can handle.””

Now that Richardson proved what he can handle, it will be interesting to see how many reps he takes from Wade, who has been sub-par all season long.

“”He’s certainly made himself a viable option for us,”” Stoops said about Richardson’s playing time with Wade back. “”Competition is good for your football team, and we’re going to play our best players that give us the best chance of winning. That’s always been the case.””

Whether or not Richardson eclipses a struggling Wade on the depth chart remains to be seen, but the simple fact that the freshman was given an opportunity to play for the Wildcats after his run-in with the law has him smiling.

“”I’m thankful,”” he said with a big smile. “”Everything happens for a reason.””

Why Shaq?

At 6-foot-1, 180 pounds Richardson doesn’t look like the Shaq that most people picture. When asked why his parents chose the name Shaq, Richardson said with a laugh, “”I’m not even sure because my dad is 5-foot-9 and my mom is 5-foot-4, so I don’t know why they chose Shaq.””

“”I played basketball, and I couldn’t shoot. That’s why I stopped,”” he added. “”I could play good defense though.””

 

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