Nov. 16, 2007
By Bucky Berlin
It is not hard to miss Barry Richardson. At 6’7″ and 330 pounds, he is as imposing on the football field as he is walking around campus. Surprisingly enough, the native of Mount Pleasant, SC is about as quiet and soft-spoken as they come. Former running back Reggie Merriweather does not remember him saying much after “hello” during Richardson’s recruiting visit. Regardless, the gentle giant has earned the respect of his coaches and teammates in four years as Clemson’s starting left offensive tackle.
Besides, what is there to talk about as #79 pancakes you into the ground?
True gladiators that do the dirty work in the trenches, linemen rarely get the credit and recognition they deserve. Their skilled and physical play determines how much time a quarterback has to throw or whether a running back will make it out of the backfield. When watching a game, their play is often overlooked as the action moves elsewhere. But without them, plays do not develop, points are not scored, and games are not won.
Offensive linemen have a system of rating their performance unique to their position that is based on blocking success, quarterback protection, and total offensive yardage, among other things. Whether it is staying on a block for the duration of a play or flat-out knocking a guy down, linemen must win the battle at the line of scrimmage in order to be successful. When recruiting a lineman out of high school, coaches are often just looking for the biggest and most physical guys on the block.
Clemson’s Offensive Line Coach Brad Scott first heard about Richardson during a phone call from Bob Hayes, the head coach at Wando High School. Hayes had a big offensive lineman who was going to graduate a year early, and he suggested that Scott take a look at him. A three-year starter at Wando High, he had an 85-percent grade as a senior, totaling 15 knockdowns and 16 pancake blocks. Seeing a raw but extremely athletic player on tape, Scott was quick to offer Richardson a scholarship.
“I thought this was the best opportunity for me to come in and play, and actually win,” reflected Richardson on his selection of Clemson. “I decided to commit after making my visit. The players on the team treated me as a friend, and that really meant a lot to me.”
Richardson would become the first-ever Tiger football recruit to finish high school in only three years. Little did Clemson coaches realize at the time was that he would also start eight games as a true-freshman, the most in school history by a first-year freshman offensive lineman. Most offensive linemen are expected to go through a year of conditioning and development before seeing large amounts of playing time, but by overcoming doubts about his age and demonstrating his pure athleticism, Richardson made an early impact on the offensive line.
“We didn’t think he’d be a guy that could come in his first year and compete,” said Scott. “Of course, we were wrong about that, because he competed extremely well from the first day of training camp.”
He showed just how well a big man could move his feet soon after arriving on Clemson’s campus.
“The first day we ran conditioners, that’s when you recognized that he was extremely light on his feet,” added Scott. “He wasn’t in near the shape that he’s in now, but he had a great stride on him.”
With excellent change-of-direction skills, he competed well enough in passing and one-on-one drills that he saw action in each of the first four games of the 2004 season. Richardson still needed the experience that comes with regular offensive repetitions and live game-play, but his natural abilities were too much for coaches to ignore. Traveling to Florida State on September 25 for the fourth game of the season, Scott believed that Richardson had to be in the lineup.
“I knew we would need him to hold up against their great pass-rushing ends,” said Scott, who originally did not start Richardson to avoid the pressure and media hype that would have come with a true-freshman starting against the highly-touted Seminoles. “So the second series, we put him in and pretty much left him in after that. He played the rest of that game and has started every game since then, all the way through his senior year this season.”
The Tigers would lose that game 41-22, but they had found their starting left tackle. Playing consistently in every game the rest of the year, he was given at least a 75-percent grade in each of his eight starts. He led Clemson at #10 Miami (FL) with a 78-percent grade on 59 plays and a season-high six knockdown blocks, followed by an impressive 81-percent grade against South Carolina. The Tigers would win five of their final six games in 2004.
“I think I played a little timid my freshman year,” Richardson admitted. “I didn’t know what was going on…the speed was kind of fast. Now that I’ve been playing for awhile, the game has slowed down.”
In a rematch against Florida State during his sophomore year, he piled up 11.5 knockdown blocks and graded 88 percent en route to the Tigers’ 35-14 win at home. Clemson has defeated the Seminoles three years in a row with Richardson at left tackle.
His matchup with All-America defensive end Mario Williams at N.C. State has been hailed as a marquee game for Richardson. Williams, ultimately the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft after the season, only had two tackles in the game. He led the ACC in sacks that year, but he did not get one against Richardson, who would earn ACC Offensive Lineman-of-the-Week honors for the game.
Richardson finished the 2005 season with grades of at least 80 percent in each of the final three games, an amount he reached six times during the season. He also totaled 47 knockdown blocks.
“The thing I’ve admired about him the most is that he’s extremely coachable,” said Scott on Richardson’s development. “He’s never once tried to be defiant or challenge a coach or be a guy that wouldn’t take coaching. He has great football instincts. When you have those types of abilities physically and then mentally you also can grasp the game and understand defenses and all, then that makes you a special player.”
Joining seniors Dustin Fry, Roman Fry, and Nathan Bennett to make up a powerful starting offensive line in 2006, Richardson helped the team to a top-20 national finish in total offense and scoring offense. Clemson also was fifth in the nation in rushing offense with 2,832 yards on the ground, an average of 218 yards per contest.
Running backs James Davis and C.J. Spiller found plenty of holes between Richardson and the other linemen, netting 2,123 rushing yards between them. In the primetime game against #13 Georgia Tech that saw Davis rush for 216 yards and two touchdowns, and Spiller rush for 116 yards and a touchdown, Richardson was credited with nine knockdown blocks and an 85-percent grade.
He finished the season with 75 knockdown blocks, second-most on the team, including the 11.5 he had at Wake Forest when he was named ACC Offensive Lineman-of-the-Week. Richardson was also named First-Team All-ACC in 2006.
After speculation that he might make the leap to the NFL following his junior year, he opted to return to Clemson for his senior season. He aims to follow in the footsteps of Gaines Adams and Tye Hill, former Tigers who returned for senior seasons in the past two years and then became first-round draft picks.
“He decided he wanted to go back, and he could use another year to get more mature,” Vanessa (Richardson’s mother) said after it was announced that her son would be returning. “He’ll be ready for the big guys next year.”
The decision had implications off the football field as well.
“I did want to get my degree before I leave, because I knew the chances of someone coming back and getting a degree is probably slim-to-none,” admitted Richardson.
Coming into this year, Richardson had started 32 consecutive games with 141 career knockdown blocks. Anchoring a line with four new starters, he has been relied upon heavily to get Clemson’s offense rolling. It did just that on September 22 at N.C. State, totaling 608 yards of total offense in the 42-20 win, including 340 rushing yards.
In a 30-17 victory at Maryland on October 27, Richardson once again earned ACC Offensive Lineman-of-the-Week honors with a 93-percent grade and eight knockdown blocks. The Tiger offense totaled 428 yards, with 249 of them coming on the ground. He continued his fine play at Duke, where he graded 91 percent and was named ACC Offensive Lineman-of-the-Week for the second week in a row and fourth time in his career.
As Richardson prepares to wrap up the 2007 season and improve his NFL stock, he hopes to fulfill several preseason expectations. He was named to the watch lists for several awards and as an All-America candidate before the season even got underway.
Richardson will likely receive an NFL Combine invitation in addition to his individual workouts at Clemson. He is already rated among the top-five offensive tackles eligible for the 2008 draft by several experts and should project as a first or second-round pick as the draft gets closer. His size, proven athletic ability, and tremendous playing experience have laid the groundwork for an impressive resumé. All of these things should give Richardson an edge in transitioning to the next level of football.
“There’s not many 6’7″, 330-pound guys that can move and are as athletic as he is,” stated Scott. “Naturally for a left tackle, that’s what the league is looking for. How high will he go? That all depends on Barry and how he finishes this year, and then how he does later. The thing I like about him is he’s not focused on that, he’s focused on Clemson and trying to help us win being the best player he can be for our team. He’s a very unselfish player.”
Richardson will leave a rather large hole in the offensive line next year, pun intended.
“He’s been a pleasure to coach and is an outstanding youngster,” said Scott. “He’ll be missed. Since I’ve been the line coach, he’s been my starting left tackle.”
Leaving with a bright future in football and a college degree (he will earn his degree in health science in December, just three-and-a-half years after he set foot on campus), the shell of the soft-spoken Richardson may have been cracked a little bit during his four years in Tigertown.
“I think I’ve opened up a little more, socially,” said Richardson. “In high school, I wasn’t that much of a talker…I’m still not. Socially, I think I’ve developed more.”
Like most of his fellow alumni, he will fondly miss the atmosphere that surrounds Tiger football.
“I like the people around here,” added Richardson. “They’re always friendly, always smiling at you, win or lose.”
Clemson will miss big Barry Richardson, but they wish him the best, as he represents them on the next playing field.
Bucky Berlin, a senior from Jamestown, NC, is a sportswriter for Clemson’s student newspaper, The Tiger.
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