The Backstory: One aspect of collegiate athletics often brushed aside is the correlation between performance on the field and performance in the classroom. Many fans assume that college athletes spend the vast majority of their time working solely on their sport. Though that may be true in some cases, a good portion of athletes find time to excel in school and make the most of their education.
At Arizona State, a proud tradition of academic and athletic success exists. Aside from Stanford, Arizona State has produced the most Academic All-Americans in the Pac-12 in recent years. In fact, many players we've highlighted in our "Summer of Legends" series received honors for both their on and off-field efforts. Today, we take a look at one of the best student-athletes to come through the Sun Devil football program.
The Player: Damien Richardson (1994-1997)
Holding down the fort at the safety position is no easy task. A talented safety must be able to step up and stop the run as well as prevent downfield passes. To do this well, safeties have to possess great instincts and knowledge and be able to read an opponent's play in the first few movements. Often times, defensive coaches will put their smartest players at safety.
In the mid 1990s, coach Bruce Snyder recognized Damien Richardson's smarts and inserted him into the starting lineup at strong safety. The Sun Devils needed some brainpower, and Richardson had plenty of that going for him.
In 1995, Richardson entered his sophomore season at Arizona State. That year, he became a regular starter at the strong safety position and developed a great rapport with his teammates on the defensive side of the ball. While he began to come into his own on the field, he was already unstoppable in the classroom. As a sophomore, Richardson earned Second Team Academic All-Conference honors.
By his junior year, Richardson was an established leader of the Sun Devil defense. Richardson's knack for understanding an opponent's offense helped the Sun Devil shut down their opposition, and he played a critical role in helping Coach Snyder's squad make it to the 1997 Rose Bowl.
Richardson's leadership was ever-apparent, and he was named a Team Captain for the 1997 season. His work ethic set the tone for the entire team, and Richardson delivered the best season of his career. For his efforts, Richardson received recognition as a Second Team All Pac-10 safety as well as an Academic All-American. The National Football Foundation honored him as a Scholar-Athlete, and he finished his career as one of the most accomplished student-athletes to come through the ASU football program.
In the Pros: In 1998, the Carolina Panthers selected Richardson in the sixth round of the NFL Draft. He went on to play six seasons as a reserve defensive back, and finished his career with 124 tackles, one sack, and one interception.
Jankans might be the most talented Sun Devil to ever don 39 on the field, but he did not finish his career in the number. After earning All-Border Conference honors at tackle in 1953 and 1954, Jankans switched to number 79 for his senior year.