Richards a rarity in high-stakes recruiting game|[02/08/07]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 8, 2007

Booming kickoff after kickoff through the end zone, drilling long field goals, and perfectly placing punts deep in enemy territory were among the easier things Eric Richards accomplished last season.

His best feat was landing a college scholarship as a kicker.

Playing a position where scholarship offers are hard to come by, Richards excelled and achieved that goal on Wednesday. He signed a letter of intent with Mississippi State, making good on a verbal commitment he made in September.

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&#8220I committed early because it was where I wanted to go and I figured it couldn’t get much better than that,” Richards said.

Richards was one of six players with Warren Central ties to sign a letter of intent on Wednesday. Offensive lineman Mark Wooten, defensive end Vincent McRaven and linebacker Wade Carter all signed with Hinds Community College. Offensive lineman Chris Payne signed with Copiah-Lincoln.

Former Vikings Chico Hunter and Larry Warner also signed.

Warner, a running back who graduated from WC in 2005 and played at Gulf Coast Community College the last two seasons, signed with Southern Illinois.

Hunter, a safety who signed with Southern Miss last year but failed to qualify academically, re-signed with the Golden Eagles on Wednesday.

He has yet to make a qualifying ACT score and will retake the test on Saturday. If he qualifies the earliest he could enroll at Southern Miss would be this summer, meaning he would miss all of spring practice. Hunter, along with Southern Miss, thought he had qualified last fall, but it turned out he was a fraction of a point short and thus remained ineligible.

&#8220It was four-tenths of a point off, but they don’t round it,” Hunter said. &#8220It’s no big deal, though. I’ve just got to keep overcoming these obstacles and jump over them. It’s my dream to play at Southern Miss.”

While he works to become eligible, Hunter has also stayed busy keeping his body in shape. Last summer he moved to Chattanooga, Tenn., to live with relative and former Warren Central great Carl Blue. Hunter now lives and works there, taking the ACT each time it’s offered and following a rigorous workout plan.

&#8220I have the Southern Miss workout manual and follow that. I work out four times a week, and on Saturday I have to run two miles in under 13 minutes,” Hunter said. &#8220It’s kind of great. I’m getting a heads up on where I need to be when I get there.”

Richards is already there. He started drawing attention from college scouts after a solid junior season in which he averaged 36.9 yards per punt and converted 3 of 7 field goals. He earned all-state honors as a punter in 2005.

He was recruited by several schools, including LSU, but most of the bigger ones wanted him to come to campus as a walk-on. That’s not an unusual tactic for college coaches, who would rather use one of their limited number of scholarships on a skill player or lineman that’s on the field more than a few snaps a game.

Richards earned an all-state selection for the second straight year by averaging 45.4 yards per punt and converting 8 of 12 field goals, along with 20 of 22 extra points. Thirty-one of his 44 kickoffs resulted in touchbacks, and by the end of the season Warren Central was basing its gameplan around him. Because of an anemic offense, the Vikings would let Richards pin opponents deep, then use their solid defense to play for field position.

&#8220We feel like we strengthened our overall kicking game, which was a priority,” Mississippi State head coach Sylvester Croom said at a signing day news conference Wednesday. &#8220We got a kicker, who is an excellent field goal kicker, kickoff man and punter.”

Richards said if he wins just one kicking job as a freshman, he’ll be happy. Whether he wins any games for the Bulldogs remains to be seen, but Richards has already won them a fan. His brother, Zach, went to college at Ole Miss but has now been forced to change his allegiances.

&#8220He said he went to school at Ole Miss, but he’s going to be a State fan now,” Richards said with a laugh. &#8220We have a banner in the house with State and Ole Miss on it, and a big slash down the middle.”

Warren Central offensive lineman Franco Knox signed late Wednesday to play next season at Alcorn State.