When is brash really too brash?
For some, Arizona State running back Demario Richard’s comments following Wednesday’s practice would be nerve-rattling, and maybe rub them the wrong way. However, when you consider the caliber of player, teammate, and person he is, it’s somehow refreshing.
The junior didn’t hold back from reminding critics where his team currently stood compared to where it was projected it to be. He barreled through it all in an interview session patterned after many of the power runs and lead blocks he’s delivered throughout his career.
The Sun Devils (5-1, 2-1 in Pac-12) currently are in a three-way tie atop the Pac-12 South division halfway through the season. Despite everything that’s gone on around the program, Arizona State has an opportunity to pit itself in prime position to contend for the Pac-12 title.
“D-Rich is a tough guy,” running backs coach John Simon said. “He enjoys the physical point of the game, and he doesn’t look to avoid contact at all. I think he’s a downhill, inside-the-tackle power back that’s looking to punch defenders, and he plays with an attitude.”
He powered straight through his points on Wednesday.
“I kept telling y’all, I knew what we were gonna do this year,” Richard said. “Everybody else doubted us. If you look at the situation, the two teams that are in first place for the South were voted sixth and fifth in the Pac-12 South.”
Those two teams—the Sun Devils and the Colorado Buffaloes—will face one another this weekend. ASU will travel to Boulder, Colo. on Friday, then face the prospect of starting a fourth-string, true-freshman quarterback after injuries knocked two players ahead of him out for the season and hampered another for at least two weeks.
The 5-foot-10, 219-pound Richard isn’t surprised this series of odd events hasn’t ultimately been reflected on the team’s record. He says the Sun Devils should be undefeated, and didn’t expect to lose to the USC Trojans in Week 4.
“We expected to be—we’re supposed to be 6-0 right now,” Richard said. “But like I said, a lot of mental errors and stuff like that can cost us the game. But yeah, I told y’all what was gonna happen with the offensive line. I told you what was gonna happen with the (defensive backs). I told you what was gonna happen with Manny (Wilkins).”
It’s not ludicrous to think these comments could leave some readers lost, disagreeing with everything being said while nitpicking at the details and the stat sheets. This, though, is something that transcends both.
This is confidence embodied: Tangible and alive. It’s something that’s hardly publicly exhibited by this 2016 Sun Devils roster.
Confidence breeds success. It’s synonymous with an individual or a team that succeeds, even if observers consider it foolish confidence. In fact, at this very moment, Richard’s confidence isn’t unfounded.
There's one goal this week. @TheFaceOfCali spelled it out before practice this morning. pic.twitter.com/2jiaSEar7c— Kaelen Jones (@kaelenjones) September 20, 2016
Arizona State is 4-0. CBA is also 4-0. @TheFaceOfCali pic.twitter.com/VjpAtWgkh8— Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) September 25, 2016
Arizona State is 5-1. Its young offensive line has only truly struggled against teams it was expected to be at a talent disadvantage against. Wilkins is 4-1 as a starter.
Richard is not wrong. Even if, at the very least, not yet.
“I don’t understand why we’re not getting the respect we deserve,” he said. “So we’re gonna have to take the respect.”
Perhaps it will come as the year progresses, when the Sun Devils face other top Pac-12 foes. Echoing his sentiments from before the season started, Richard declared, “You still gotta play and come see us.”
This sort of outspokenness contrasts the quiet work ethic the program has observed as a whole year; it’s been all work, no talk from ASU.
Still, Richard isn’t the only vibrant personality on the roster, but his play assuredly carries the same weight as his words.
He’s rushed for 2,018 yards in his career. The total ranks 16th in program history. It’s feasible to see Richard crack the top 10 if he rushes for just a past a combined 300 yards over the next six contests by averaging 50 yards per game.
Earlier in the week, head coach Todd Graham said he’s happy with the consistency Richard has provided the Sun Devils during his time in Tempe.
“He’s a guy that I don’t mention that much that I should probably mention more,” Graham said during a Monday press conference. “It’s very stabilizing having a running back like him that’s running the ball the way he is.”
Like any competitor, Richard says he striving to be the best—he wants to be the No. 1 all-time rusher in ASU history. However, while many would assume his demeanor suggests otherwise, it’s not about him. It’s about the team and the challenges it faces together.
“I’m trying to get my name in one of these glass cases, and also bring a Rose Bowl Championship here. So, it’s (eclipsing 2,000 yards) a great goal (to accomplish),” Richard said.
“The 2,000-yard goal is fine, but I mean, next week, we’ve got Colorado coming up.”
This is an example parallel to the other key trait of Richard’s running-style: Patience.
“D-Rich is a patient runner, and he’s been working diligently to improve his craft,” Simon said. “The last three or four weeks, I’ve been really impressed with how he’s been working at details.”
The detail here: Richard isn’t going too fast. The ultimate goal is to succeed in the future, but the present goal is what’s right in front of him. Not to mention, it’s not about raving about his own goals and accomplishments, but the team’s.
Since arriving in Tempe, Richard has had to forfeit touches to former Sun Devil DJ Foster, and continues to do so with fellow junior tailback Kalen Ballage. Not once has he publicly discussed his frustration, instead he’s focused on aiding to the team’s success.
“We’re trying to win this Pac-12, trying to win this Rose Bowl, trying to win this Natty (National Championship),” he said. “It’s (reaching 2,000 yards) behind me now, and we’re on to bigger and better things.
“Like I said, my team needs some really big rings, basically. Man, we’re just trying to get the job done and win ball games to make everybody in this building and on our campus happy, you know? Our alumni happy.”
This is the Sun Devils’ champion of confidence, with hints of subtlety embedded in exuberance. It may not have been the Texas tea Graham and his squad sought from the 2015 season, but it’s worked out so far this season.
“Great heart, great determination, great patience. I like his demeanor,” Graham said of Richard. “When we’ve had times of adversity, he’s shown up and he’s shown up with a positive attitude and he’s a guy that is a warrior at running back...”
Richard has been at the forefront, bowling over both low defenders and low expectations set ahead of the season.
“Y’all don’t wanna respect us, so we’re gonna grab the respect,” Richard said. “Like I said, you’ve still gotta come here and play us, you’ve still gotta come here in a 50-, 60,000 (attendance) sold out game, when the student sections on both ends, that effect the UCLA kicker, missing field goals.
“You’ve still gotta come here and play us, so we really don’t care what no one has to say.”
The lionhearted Richard is just the kind of voice the Sun Devils need—when the pride is threatened, he stands tall and does not back down.