HOOVER, Ala. — Sometime shortly after Kevin Richardson II agreed to join the Arkansas Razorbacks as a preferred walk-on, he stumbled upon a message board post that included his high school highlight tape.
A sampling of the responses to that post:
“He’s too small.”
“He’s not fast enough.”
“Put him on the practice squad.”
Or Richardson’s personal favorite, “It looks like this is in slow motion.”
Now contrast that with the image of Richardson on Monday. He sported a sharp blue suit with a red tie, a white pocket square and a Razorback lapel pin. Handlers whisked him around the Wynfrey Hotel for more than four hours, from one room to the next. One interview to the next. When he emerged from one room and headed for another, a swarm of TV cameramen followed him like they would the president.
It was overwhelming. It was rapid.
It was anything but slow motion.
Richardson enters his senior season as an Arkansas starter and team captain. And on Monday, the Jacksonville, Ark., native was one of three Razorbacks here to represent his team at this annual event reserved for the best and brightest players from around the nation’s premier college football conference.
“I was just hoping to play one day,” Richardson said, “and ended up getting a starting spot, earning a scholarship, being voted team captain. Now I’m here at SEC Media Days.
“That’s something kids from Arkansas dream of doing. I’m just living the dream right now.”
Monday was fabulous for Richardson in every way, but he’s really just ready to be back on the game field. He started the 2016 season opener against Louisiana Tech but suffered a pectoral tear that cost him the rest of his junior year.
The loss of Richardson was a brutal blow to an Arkansas secondary that was already thin and depleted by injury. And while it wasn’t the only — or even the primary — reason for the Arkansas defense’s disastrous 2016 season, Richardson’s injury certainly didn’t help.
As a senior, a healthy Richardson is expected to play a key role in what the Razorbacks hope is a defensive revival. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema overhauled his defensive staff and changed his defensive scheme. The Razorbacks also must replace several experienced defenders lost to graduation like Deatrich Wise Jr., Brooks Ellis, Taiwan Johnson, Jeremiah Ledbetter and Jared Collins.
“[Richardson] just really embodies everything I believe in,” Bielema said Monday. “He’s a little undersized, under-recruited, underdeveloped coming out of high school. We presented an opportunity for him to walk on.
“Really in the first two weeks, I knew we had something. Probably one of the most intelligent football IQ players I’ve ever been around. Plays all five DB positions. And is a great leader off the field.”
Richardson will primarily be a nickelback again in 2017, although he said defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads has told him to be prepared to play other positions as well.
So yes, it’s been quite a ride for the former walk-on who was so low on the totem poll upon enrollment that one of his fellow newcomers that summer doesn’t remember him being there. And to be fair, there were more than 30 Hogs — including five scholarship defensive backs — joining the team in June 2013.
Four years later, quarterback Austin Allen flew on a private plane here with Richardson as a fellow senior, team captain and starter.
“Kevin can show the younger guys that, ‘Hey, you might not be where you want right now, but if you work hard and you buy into the Arkansas philosophy, you can achieve great things,’” Allen said. “Kevin’s here right now. One of three guys. I had a bunch of guys come in with me and Kevin was probably the lightest-recruited of them.
“He’s 150 pounds coming in and now look at him. He’s at SEC Media Days.”
Richardson was put on scholarship before the 2015 season and said he goes out of his way to inspire and motivate current Arkansas walk-ons.
Early Monday — before all the interviews — Richardson and Allen sat together and marveled at the list of former Arkansas Razorbacks who attended SEC Media Days.
Matt Jones. Darren McFadden. D.J. Williams. Trey Flowers.
That list now includes Kevin Richardson II.
So much for “slow motion.”
“You’ve gotta use that kinda stuff as motivation,” Richardson said of that old message board post. “I wouldn’t have gotten here in the first place if I didn’t have people telling me stuff like that.
“I’m not gonna let other people tell me when I can’t do something.”