Shaq Richardson appreciates the love, really he does.
But he is sure he can do better. Can do more to earn that love.
The way the second-year Calgary Stampeder defender sees it, he was named one of the Shaw Top Performers of the Week based on one stellar half of football, while the other left a little to be desired.
“I actually thought I had my worst first half of the season,” an energetic Richardson said after he and his teammates had finished up a day of meetings, prepping for Saturday’s rematch with the Edmonton Eskimos. There’d been some film work involved, too, and because of that, Richardson was able to ease up on himself a bit.
“Looking back on it it wasn’t that bad,” he said. “It’s not like I missed any plays or anything. I just felt I wasn’t as sharp as I could’ve been. Or should’ve been.”
Richardson eyes a tackle on Mike Reilly to go along with his two interceptions last week (The Canadian Press)
The accolades Richardson received for his Labour Day heroics (two interceptions, one fumble recovery, three defensive tackles and another on special teams) come, impressively, at a time when he is learning the ins and outs of a position that he still finds a little foreign. Like so many CFL defensive backs before him, Richardson has been moved closer to the line of scrimmage as a strong side linebacker (SAM) for most of this season.
“I’ve taken to it well,” Richardson said, while admitting that there is room for growth, even after a game like the one he just had. A corner and occasionally a safety during his college days, Richardson was trained to cover passing routes. Even his time at safety came mostly in third and long situations, he said, with very little run stopping asked of him. Now, as a SAM, Richardson has those duties to master as well as being charged with altering his visual concept of the game.
“SAM is a lot of thinking,” he said. “Probably one of the hardest (positions) on the field, mentally. After you get that portion of it down, your assignments and route concepts, then you can actually become a playmaker.”
Richardson is a ball hawk. Just ask him. Or don’t, because it will just come out, anyway. The 25-year-old native of Compton, California doesn’t stray too far from talking about wanting the ball and wanting it often. Tackles are fine. Knockdowns are nice, too. Getting your mitts around the ball – they way he did in hauling in those two interceptions against the Eskimos – that’s the stuff.
“If the ball is in my general area, I claim it as mine,” laughed Richardson, pointing out that the two Mike Reilly passes that he pilfered on Monday weren’t even intended for targets he was tasked with covering. It’s just that his responsibilities took him to the right spots at the right time. Or, near the right spots, anyway. “They were actually throwing it to other people’s guys on those interceptions,” he said. “I was in the general area.”
And, again, we know what Richardson thinks about footballs that enter his general area. It’s why he enjoyed playing halfback for the Stamps earlier this season after starting the year at SAM, subbing in when injured DB Brandon Smith was out of the picture. During one of those games, July 29th versus Hamilton, Richardson scored the other of his three interceptions this season, hiking it back 47 yards for a touchdown.
“That’s the money position,” said Richardson of halfback. “You get a lot of action there.”
“Think about it,” he continued. “You have number eleven from Sask (Ed Gainey). You have number twenty-three from Winnipeg (T.J. Heath). The boundary half gets a lot of targets. Covered or not, they’re gonna throw it.”
While Richardson’s default settings may understandably still be tilted towards the desires of a player in the secondary, he is finding the advantages of life as a SAM to be quite acceptable. Specifically, that there are friends all around.
“You’re really secure,” he said. “You’re in the middle of the field so you have help on each side. If you know your job you can be aggressive where you’re allowed to be aggressive. So, in my game, that works for me.”
What is also working for Richardson, what would work for any defender in the CFL, is having so many in the way of teammates who display sage leadership and instinct to lean on, as he incorporates his aggressive style into life at SAM. Most of the time, the players who have his back – literally – are halfback Jamar Wall and safety Josh Bell, the completely dependable veterans who line up a few steps behind and on either side of Richardson on so many snaps.
“Even when I mess up, they might take my job for me and we just switch roles because they see that I’m doin’ something that they know I’m not supposed to be doing,” Richardson said, gratefully. “Or they see what I see, so they switch jobs with me. It makes our defence work really well together.”
Richardson is not letting his new-found, league-wide notoriety go to his head. Being a Top Performer of the Week doesn’t mean he has arrived as a SAM, only that he is positively on track. “There’s definitely improvement to be made,” he said, adding that he was “grateful” for the honour.
There seems to be a humility about Richardson when it comes to that sort of thing. When asked if he received any kind of a prize for the award, he said, joyfully: “They shouted me out on Instagram,” and added – again with an air of obvious thankfulness – that the Stampeders had rewarded him with a gift certificate to a popular Calgary Italian restaurant.
Awards are nice, but what Richardson really wants is the ball, as we have determined. So much so that he admits to lobbying Calgary coaches a bit, during the off-season, to let him play a little offence from time to time as well.
“This off-season, I mentioned it,” he said. “They said ‘you gotta focus on defence first.’ Maybe I’ll gain more confidence and make more plays,” he said, referring to adding to his interception count. “And catch the ball.”
But the flame of that offensive desire still flickers. Richardson has a goal.
“I want to catch a touchdown pass from Bo,” he said, referring to Stamps’ quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell. “That’s what I wanna do.”
Those old desires die hard. Richardson played both defensive back and wide receiver when he was in high school and his appetite for getting his hands on a football hasn’t been satiated since.
A few days prior to the Labour Day game, he’d had been gently bemoaning the fact that his move to the SAM position meant he wasn’t in line for quite so many opportunities at stabbing airborne pigskins. He rectified that a few days later with his two swipes against Edmonton and even if he doesn’t get so many of those opportunities going forward, Richardson will be content.
“I’m on the number one defence in the league so I’m happy right where I’m at,” he said.
Because if there is one thing we’ve learned about Shaq Richardson, it’s that he keeps his gratitude where he wants his footballs; Right in his general area.