PHOTO: Darius Richardson (96) at last year’s Wisconsin game.
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By TOM SHANAHAN
Army West Point’s Darius Richardson gained the first significant playing time of his career last fall as a junior backup nose tackle to Nolan Cockrill. Both good and bad came with being in that position on the depth chart.
The Good: Cockrill, a dominant player and team captain as a senior, took the time to share the tricks of the trade with his backups. He wanted them to improve.
The Bad: Cockrill, as a dominant player, wasn’t replaced much. He started all 13 games and finished seventh on the team in tackles with 38. That’s a stat magnified by understanding a nose tackle’s job is tying up offensive linemen to create lanes for the linebackers.
“Last year was my first time getting my feet wet on the field,” Richardson said Tuesday after a spring practice. “It went well, especially playing with Nolan Cockrill in front of me. He was a great leader, great player and great person to learn from.”
Cockrill is now a commissioned officer while Richardson is in position to take over the starting job. It’s been a long climb from a year at the prep school in 2018 and limited to the scout team as a freshman and sophomore. It was a good day to ask Army coach Jeff Monken about Richardson’s progress.
“We were just talking about him at a staff meeting,” Monken said. “About what improvement he’s made, especially the last couple of years. I think at some point his freshman and sophomore years we weren’t sure he was going to develop. He got to play last year, and we expect him to play this year. He may be the starter and if not, he’ll see significant playing time – that’s for sure. He’s playing really hard. He does some things well and other things we’re working on.”
It’s not unusual for Army players to see limited playing time until they put it together their senior season. Army grad Jon Rhattigan didn’t start until his senior year in 2020, and he’s now a linebacker with the Seattle Seahawks. These are true underdog-to-starter stories — not Rudy Hollywood endings.
“That takes a while,” Richardson said of learning to wait his turn. “I tried to learn to adapt to the process. I kept my head down and kept working. Eventually the time comes for me to take that role.”
Richardson has the size Army often lacks among its linemen as a 6-foot-2, 285-pounder out of Dover, Florida. He is up 10 pounds from last season, and he said he thinks he can maintain his weight. He’s also emphasized his pleasure with his technique week.
“Nolan made it known you had to make your feet work quickly and put your hands on the offensive lineman and focus on pad level,” Richardson said. “That’s something he always preached to me.”
Richardson still needs to nail the starting job in fall camp, but he’s already taking on another Cockrill role.
“I try to influence others,” he said. “I’m critiquing anything I see on the field. I’ll say, ‘You guys are stepping wrong’ and let them know they have ‘step shorter on this play.’”
Although Richardson won’t be the first little-used Army player to break into the starting lineup as a senior, it’s not an easy route. Monken thinks it’s harder at a service academy than at a civilian school.
“I think it’s more difficult to do it here,” Monken said. “The challenges they face academically and the emotional stress of everything on their plate. We put a lot on them. They’ve got to manage that and it’s difficult. When they’re not playing or they’re on the scout team and worked hard and see a guy behind them beat them out, it’s hard. We bring in a lot of guys each year. There are 85 guys on scholarship at a traditional school. How many wide receivers, quarterback, defensive backs and defensive tackles do they have on a scholarship? I think it’s more challenging to rise to the top, especially you’ve had to battle your way through.”
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