He wanted so badly to prove he belonged at Tennessee, to live up to the expectations that weighed so heavily on his shoulders, but over four seasons spent fighting through the emotional pain it caused, Drew Richmond had lost sight of why he enjoyed football in the first place.
“All that scrutiny, it took a toll,” Richmond said.
But as Richmond looked back on an up-and-down collegiate career that will end at the Holiday Bowl against Iowa on Friday, the easy-going USC right tackle smiled as he recalled the experience that helped him rediscover what he’d once lost.
After four years of turmoil, his single season as a Trojan, he says, “changed my life.”
“To see it all end here at USC, to be a part of this family, it’s been a blessing,” Richmond said.
The Memphis native knew he needed a fresh start, and as he searched for a new home last summer, he had no shortage of suitors. Richmond visited Florida State, North Carolina State, Oklahoma State and Vanderbilt. It was at USC, though, where he finally felt he belonged.
Football had been only a part of that decision. He would have to fight for his starting spot at USC, and he’d spend most of fall camp toiling on the second-team offensive line. But his final season had always been about more than just finding a place for playing time, Richmond says now.
“It was more so about finding my confidence, being around these coaches, these guys that all believed in me,” Richmond says. “They helped clear my mind and gave me a different perspective. I found happiness in the game again.”
And in Richmond, USC found a leader along a line in desperate need of one. After the Trojans dealt with their own issues up front a year ago, the experienced right tackle played a huge part in helping steady the line this season.
“Sometimes, guys just need fresh starts and need the opportunity to start anew,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “Drew was that type of guy. From Day 1, you could just see him fit this place and fit USC. He came in here with no ego, nothing but, ‘Hey, I want to go earn a job.’ He was very humble about it.”
No longer did Richmond feel the need to prove he belonged, but over the course of fall camp, he did anyway. He earned the right tackle job at camp and never looked back.
“To start here Day 1,” Richmond said, “it was just affirmation to let me know that I’m on the right path.”
His path from here is less certain. As he deals with a foot sprain, Richmond’s status for Friday’s bowl game is still up in the air. After that, the right tackle will begin to prepare for the draft, in hopes of continuing a career that he says was saved by USC.
Whatever happens from there, Richmond plans to return the favor.
“I want to change the lives of as many others as I can,” he says.
ITS staying put
After a year spent rotating as a starting corner, redshirt freshman Isaac Taylor-Stuart sent a series of cryptic tweets that suggested he might not be so happy with the arrangement.
“I know my worth,” he wrote Nov. 24.
“Can’t wait till I tell my story,” he wrote a day later.
But when asked about those tweets Tuesday, Taylor-Stuart shrugged off any suggestion that he was frustrated, before stating plainly that he has no intention of leaving USC any time soon.
“I’m staying 100%,” Taylor-Stuart said. “I’m going to finish out here and go to the league from there. That’s the whole plan.”
He did, however, learn one lesson from the Trojans’ corner rotation, he said.
“I’ll be a lot more patient now,” he said.
When Markese Stepp had ankle surgery at the end of October, cutting short his breakout season in USC’s backfield, some hope remained that the standout freshman back might return in time for bowl season.
But as the Holiday Bowl draws closer, that hope appears to be dwindling. Stepp didn’t practice Tuesday, and with only two practices remaining before Friday’s game, Helton suggested that Stepp’s confidence in his surgically repaired ankle isn’t yet where it needs to be.
“To be honest with you,” Helton said, “if it doesn’t look any better tomorrow, you’re probably not going to see him [Friday].”