BEREA (AP) — Trent Richardson remembers Redskins running back Alfred Morris with long hair and one of his teammates stupidly yanking on it before a game.
“He got so hot and everyone was so scared of him,” Richardson said. “Nobody would touch him. He was a big guy. He was the biggest dude out there.”
Morris, too, can picture Richardson a bigger-than-average kid, years before he started carrying the ball for the Browns.
“He had calves of a grown man,” Morris said.
The two rookies, who began their football careers bashing their way to stardom on sandlots in their hometown of Pensacola, Fla., — a football talent hotbed — took dissimilar paths to the NFL. But they’ll cross paths again and renew their rivalry Sunday when the Browns (5-8) host the Redskins (7-6).
Richardson was expected to have an immediate impact on the Browns, and despite playing for weeks with a rib injury that won’t be fully healed until the offseason, the No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft has lived up to projections. He’s rushed for 869 yards and matched the team rookie record with nine rushing touchdowns, a mark he shares with Hall of Famer Jim Brown, who caused a controversy when he called Richardson “ordinary” after the Browns selected him.
Richardson has been special.
Morris has been even better for the Redskins.
The sixth-round pick (No. 173 overall) from Florida Atlantic enters this week’s game with 1,228 yards and seven scores. Morris is fourth among the league’s top rushers and he’s the latest in a long line of young backs to thrive under Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, who had four rookies top 1,000 yards rushing in Denver.
Shanahan’s system has helped Morris, but the humble 24-year-old has earned every yard through hard work and dedication — values he developed in Pensacola, also the home of career rushing leader Emmitt Smith.
Morris arrived at Redskins camp driving a 1991 Mazda, and although he can now afford to replace the car with 125,000 miles on the odometer, Morris has no intention of splurging. And when he visits his parents’ home, he usually stays on the couch.
“I actually like the couch,” he said. “It’s pretty comfortable.”
He’s equally relaxed in the same backfield with dynamic quarterback Robert Griffin III, giving the Redskins an offense that’s become one of the league’s most potent attacks.
Morris is outshining Richardson, but he’s not gloating about any statistical advantage over his longtime peer.
“That’s not a pride thing,” he said. “We’re in two totally different situations, two different divisions. I don’t take pride in having more rushing yards. I really don’t even think about it. I’m just happy that he’s doing good and that I’m doing good and just to make it this far coming from where we came from is just an accomplishment in itself.”
There are currently more than one dozen players from the Pensacola area on rosters throughout the league. Browns defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin attended the same high school as Richardson, who was raised by his mother and knew at an early age he wanted to provide for his family.
“People are just really hungry and want to better their lives and want better for their family,” Richardson said. “Growing up, I always wanted to make sure my mama didn’t have to work again. My mama was working two or three jobs when I was growing up. Seeing my grandma work and care for us, it was nothing but more motivation for me. Pensacola, it’s a place where you can feel like, ‘I’m glad I’m from here because it made me.’
“It pushed me to strive for much that I want in life.”
Morris’ success may be surprising to those who didn’t see him run over other players for years. Richardson has been watching the 5-foot-10, 218-pounder cause destruction inside the hash marks for most of his life.
“We’ve always been rivals,” he said. “He was the reason why I never made the (high school) playoffs. Then his little brother Shawn was the next reason. I’ve been playing against Alfred my whole life and him and his little brother have been on the same team. They were the reason why I didn’t make it to the playoffs.”
That could happen again.
The Browns are a longshot to make the AFC playoffs, and need to win their final three games to have any chance at the postseason. Cleveland’s defense will have to contain Griffin, assuming he plays, along with Morris, who needs 288 yards to surpass Clinton Portis’ team single-season rushing record.
Morris didn’t have records in mind when he was drafted. His only objective was to win a job with Washington.
“I wasn’t guaranteed a spot on this team, so I had to bust my butt in camp,” he said. “My goal was to make the team. And, after that, the opportunity will come and when it does come make the most of it.”
He’s done that.
There were skeptics who doubted Morris could play at the game’s highest level. They looked at his size and college and wondered.
They should have talked to Richardson.
“He didn’t get that much recognition because of the school he was at,” Richardson said. “They didn’t get seen a lot. But Alfred has always been a baller to me and he’s always had a nose for the end zone.
“He’s always been a baller to me.”
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