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A Hard Yard

After a year from hell, Demario Richard is ready for a run at redemption

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Are you still watching?

He didn’t have the motivation to do anything else, and with the way his body felt, watching was about the only thing he could do anyways.

Just a few months ago, he was the one being watched. All eyes were on him. Scoring touchdown after touchdown had earned him the spotlight, and he quickly established himself as one of the rising stars in college football.

Now, it was gone. The powerful runs to get the hard yards. The brash, confident attitude. Hell, even the ability to get out of bed some days.

The further he slipped from the spotlight, the more isolated he became. The more he tried to tough it out, the more he hurt. He turned his phone off, ignoring calls from his family, teammates, and coaches. He lost some friends.

But they don’t understand. They’re not hurting like this. They’re not in this much pain. He’s also gone to great lengths to make sure they don’t know what he’s enduring.

So here he was, locked away in his room yet again, staring at the TV as Netflix asked him Are you still watching?

This episode was terrible. Maybe the next one will be better.

The story arc for Demario Richard in 2016 had enough twists and painful turns to fill out a critically-acclaimed drama series, but it was one that few people knew was even happening.

From the outside, he looked like a struggling player on a struggling team, a young running back unable to follow up on his breakout year. On the field, he was slower, less agile, and far less productive. Fans and the media wasted no time in speculating as to the reasons.

He’s dinged up. His offensive line is terrible. Maybe he’s just not that good. The coaches don’t know how to use him.

In reality, it was something else. It began with a painful injury, but it soon became much more damaging. And all the while, he kept the true nature of his problems hidden from those closest to him.

"I was fighting demons," he said.

But like most great stories, his fortunes began to turn around thanks to the love—both of the nurturing and tough varieties—of his family. When he finally sought help, they were there for him and willing to do whatever it took to get him back on the right path.

It’s been a long and difficult road back for the 20-year-old senior. At long last, he’s gotten his body and his state of mind healthy. He’s ready to put the Super back in "Super Demario".

Now, he’s got one more chance to show them what he can do.

The 2015 season had been Demario Richard’s coming out party.

Then a true sophomore, he took over as Arizona State’s lead running back and proved to be a dynamic weapon. He rushed for 1,098 yards and seven touchdowns, and added another 303 yards and three scores as a receiver.

Buoyed by that success, Richard saw a chance to take a reach at one of his goals a year early. If he could put together another big season, he would leave school and enter the NFL Draft.

"I was trying to get out of here," Richard said of his approach to the 2016 season. "I was telling myself that if I rack up 1,400 to 1,500 yards and a couple touchdowns, I have a chance. My family is going to be straight. That’s how I was looking at it. I gotta get out of here."

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

He broached the idea with his family. It did not go over well, but Richard remained undeterred.

"I’m coming off 1,200 (yards) and a couple touchdowns, and you’re telling me to stay if I get 1,500? Nah man, I’m outta there," he said. "I was just hungry. I was going to do whatever I can. I’m about to get however strong I need to get, however fast I need to get, to get out of here."

Richard had always shown an excellent work ethic, but in that offseason, with the NFL seemingly within his grasp, he took it to another level. During spring practices in 2016, he was living up to the hype as one of the Pac-12’s best young players.

"That was one of the best times of my life," said Richard. "I was doing everything right. I felt like I couldn’t do anything wrong. I was healthy. I was more vocal. I was just trying to raise my (draft) stock."

Team goals did not go off the table, but they were supplanted atop his priority list. That did not escape notice.

"I think that thinking more of himself and not the whole team may have got him to believe that he was more valuable than anybody else," said Mike Richard, Demario’s father. "You got these 18, 19-year-old kids and they do great things on the field in a big time situation, and their attitude changes."

He was right.

"I was coming in selfish," Demario Richard freely admits.

Regardless of the motivation, the end result was that it fueled Richard’s determination to work harder than he ever had before.

In late July, ASU’s summer strength and conditioning program was coming to a close, and Richard was one of the team’s top performers. He made waves on social media when he tweeted a video of him squatting 500 pounds. With just one more day left in the program, some of the players went out to do some routine running.

"We were doing a shuttle," Richard said. "I went to go touch the line with my right hand, and I felt something pop."

Pain. Lots of pain.

"When I tried to walk, I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t move. Coach Griz (strength and conditioning coach Shawn Griswold) was like ‘Can you move?’ I was like, ‘Nah, I can’t move.’ I tried to get up and walk and he told me to stay down. I felt something pop above my pelvis. He said, ‘That doesn't sound normal.’"

It wasn’t.

He went in for X-rays and an MRI. The diagnosis was osteitis pubis, an inflammation injury to the pubic symphysis and the adjoining muscle. In layman’s terms, he injured the joint and muscles that hold the pelvis together. For a football player—or really, anybody that likes to be able to move about freely—that is one of the most painful areas to injure.

"I tore my muscle and my inflammation never went down," Richard said. "I was purple and yellow the whole year. I was always puffy."

He was hobbled and in pain, but Richard did not want those around him to know to what extent. That included not just the Sun Devil football program, but his family.

"At first, I didn’t know," Mike Richard said. "Demario is one of those kids that tries to play through it, or won’t tell you that he is hurt."

He had to find out on his own.

"We were outside in front of the house," Mike Richard said. "I know the way he walks. I think he went jogging up the street. I said ‘Hey man, what’s going on with you?’ He said, ‘Dad, I’m hurt. I’m hurting bad. I don’t have any time to heal and get better.’"

He didn’t. Fall camp was underway and the season opener was quickly approaching. Richard was being counted upon to be a focal point of an offense that was breaking in a brand new starting quarterback.

"I thought it’d be gone by the time we came back from fall camp, but it ended up lingering and got worse as the year went on," Demario Richard said. "In my mind, I was, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to make it through this year.’"

The season started off promisingly enough. He ran for 78 yards and a touchdown in the opener against NAU, and then logged season-highs with 30 carries and 109 yards in the shootout win against Texas Tech. The next week, he tallied 95 yards against UTSA.

But something was clearly wrong. Always known as a power back, Richard wasn’t able to bowl over defenders anymore. The quickness through the hole that he had shown in the prior year was gone. With the injury striking at his core, Richard was a shadow of his former self.

"I was playing the year at like 30 to 35 percent," he said.

Despite the consistent pain, Richard continued to try to tough it out, but the results on game day continued to suffer. Over the last eight games of the year, Richard failed to top 65 rushing yards in any game. The injury finally forced him to miss the game against Oregon. In the three final games of the season, he totaled just 61 yards on 21 carries.

"It affected everything," Richard said. "When I was getting the ball, I didn’t have any burst. I didn't have any burst into the open field. I didn’t have a burst coming out of my cuts like I was stuck. I felt really, really slow. I couldn’t open up and stride. I didn’t feel as strong from the bottom down. If I’m going head up with a DB, I would hit them and keep going. But last year, I was hitting them and falling. I didn’t have enough balance. I was just miserable."

NCAA Football: Washington at Arizona State Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The season devolved into a test of endurance and pain tolerance. Already hampered by the initial injury, Richard also absorbed the pounding that any running back takes over the course of a season. Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith famously said that playing the position "is like being in 30-40 car accidents" each game.

Richard had no time to heal up.

"It never went down the whole year," Richard said of his injury. "I was practicing the whole year. I’m trying to get through it. It was a chronic injury. I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to come back from it."

On the year, Richard led the team with 593 yards rushing. However, he scored just three touchdowns, and his 3.8 yards per carry was more than a yard and a half lower than his career average.

It was the lowest point Richard had ever known as a football player. Yet as bad as things were on the field, they were becoming much worse off of it. For as much as the initial injury hurt, it was just the catalyst that touched off a painful spiral that took over Richard’s entire life.

"I just shut all the way down."

The Sunken Place

In talking to Demario Richard, you come away with the sense that he’s an outgoing, confident young man. He’s got a good sense of humor, he’s engaging, but perhaps the most obvious trait is his forthrightness. Richard is not the kind of person who will hold back his thoughts and feelings. You never have to guess where you stand with him, or what is going on with him.

During the fall of 2016, all of that changed.

Week after week, the pain from his core injury grew more intense. So too, did his frustrations from his on-field performance.

This was completely foreign terrain for the then-19-year-old Richard. It was his first significant injury, but perhaps more crucially, it was the first time he wasn’t able to find success on the field. From Pop Warner through high school and to the Pac-12, Richard had always been able to rack up yards and touchdowns.

NCAA Football: Northern Arizona at Arizona State Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Over the years, he had set a high standard for himself, but now hobbled by injury, he was unable to get anywhere close to them. It was a blow to his self-esteem, but more than anything, he feared he would disappoint those around him.

"I just felt like I was going to let everybody down," Richard said. "I’ve never been hurt before. I’ve played through injuries before. I just didn’t want to let anyone down."

Richard is not the type to make—or even risk the perception of making—excuses. Combined with his drive to not let anyone down, that led him to keep his injury hidden from as many people as he could. The only people who knew of the injury were some of his immediate family, his girlfriend, his high school coaches, and his two best friends. Even then, he still kept the full extent of the situation to himself.

"I didn’t want anybody to know what the real injury was," he admitted. "I had people telling me that it was my knee or my ankle. It was none of that. My parents were frustrated. They would call me, I’d look at it, and turn my phone off. Coaches would be calling me, I’d turn my phone off. My attitude wasn’t right. I can’t do anything, so I don’t care. I was really sick, sick of myself."

Knowing that he was in pain, Richard’s family—out in California—tried to help from afar.

"(I gave him) Positive reinforcement, kept telling him that he has better days ahead," Mike Richard said. "I would text him little words that I’d be thinking to keep his head right. Some kids, they get injuries and they fall on the wrong path and do something really stupid or just shut down. Demario knows I am his biggest fan. I had to keep injecting him with positive things and reasons to keep going. He wasn’t at the point of giving up, but last year was his lowest point."

However, those efforts fell on deaf ears.

NCAA Football: Texas Tech at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

"I had a negative mindset," Demario Richard said. "They were trying to be really supportive, but I was like, ‘I don’t want to hear that. Everything you are telling me, that’s not going to make me feel better. That’s not going to make this injury go away.’"

As the season wore on and his frustrations were mounting, Richard drifted further into isolation.

"I stayed away from my teammates. I locked myself in my room," said Richard. "After practice or after class, I would go in my room. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I was over it.

"I was in the sunken place."

Soon enough, it began to take a toll on his relationships.

"Some days, I wouldn’t answer the phone for anybody," Richard said. "My mom and dad would be blowing my phone up. My girlfriend would be calling my phone. I don’t want to answer her calls. I have relationship issues with her, so I’m dealing with that too. My dad thinks I’m ignoring them. My mom is feeling hurt. My aunts. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I turned my phone off for a week one time."

His girlfriend tried repeatedly to get him to open up, but Richard continued to deflect. She hated that. Eventually, it was too much and the pair broke up.

That relationship was not the only personal casualty. That fall, Richard says that he lost a few other friends.

Taking their place came some bad and damaging habits.

"I sat in a room, watched Netflix, played video games, and ate," Richard said. "That’s all I did. I’d lift, but no cardio."

Sometimes, he’d fire up his PlayStation 4 for some Grand Theft Auto V. Maybe Madden, 2K, or Call of Duty. He went through seasons of Power, Gotham, and even Orange is the New Black ("for some reason").

Once one of the team’s most diligent workers, Richard slipped in his conditioning. He also found solace in unhealthy food.

"I started getting fat. My face started getting fat," he said. "I was probably 230 (pounds) last year with a belly. I never really had that before. It was sickening. As I go back and watch myself, it was just crazy."

He was drifting away.

Gone was the engaging, confident young man who brought a spark of energy into the room. Gone was the dynamic running back making plays on Saturday. What remained was a 19-year-old dealing with a painful list of injuries and a crumbling personal life, a kid trying to fight those battles all alone.

"I lost myself. I didn’t know what I was."

In the Locker Room

There was little time to mope or feel sorry for himself. Even though his personal life was in disarray, Demario Richard still had to get up and go to practice and class each and every day.

Unfortunately, the simple act of getting up had become a major issue.

"Nobody knows the pain of waking up in the morning and not being able to get out of bed," Richard said. "I lived with (former ASU safety) Armand Perry, and there’s been days where I’m in bed and he’ll knock on the door, and I’ll be like ‘Bro, you got to come help me up, I can’t move.’"

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Texas A&M Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The daily grind of a student-athlete at the Division I level is tough enough when healthy, but Richard was currently not, either physically or emotionally. Dealing with such adversity as a teenager is difficult, and Richard had nearly cut off everyone close to him who could possibly help.


One of the few teammates who knew about Richard’s situation was safety, Marcus Ball.

"We’ve become real close the last two years," Ball said. "His locker is right by mine. He was a guy that was always in my ear, talking to me about how he feels. He gravitated towards me because I’m older."

That bond allowed Ball to get a greater sense of Richard’s plight.

"He was a young guy," said Ball. "A young guy, it’s easy for them to fall off the boat and miss their opportunity to do something special with their life."

Ball tried to make sure that did not happen.

"When you see a guy starting to fall off the boat, you have to go grab him," Ball said. "That’s a part of servicing your team. When he was kind of falling off, I could tell he was hurting, I would just stay in his ear and let him know that everything was going to be all good and to keep the faith. I would pray for him, whether he knew I was praying for him or not. I would just stay in his ear and make sure he didn’t fall off the boat and that he kept that mature outlook. I knew that he was going to overcome it. I made sure as a teammate, as a brother, as a person who cares, that he wasn’t going to do that."

Yet despite Ball’s best efforts, Richard remained in danger of going overboard. He had support out there, but he just refused to take their hand. That included the team’s coaching staff.

UCLA v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

"My coaches tried to reach out to me, but I didn’t answer the phone," Richard said.

John Simon, Arizona State’s running backs coach, knew that his leading rusher was not near 100 percent. Beyond being the coach who worked most closely with Richard, Simon was perhaps the best equipped member of the staff to try to help him.

In addition to his background in football, Simon has also spent time as a motivational speaker and working with at-risk youth. He understood that the teenage and early adult years are a hard and turbulent time for anyone, so he worked to create a stable environment for his players.

"I think it’s important as a coach that you provide a consistent level for your kids in the meeting room, in your character, in your personality, in your emotional way that you deal with players," Simon said. "I think it’s healthy for them that they can find consistency in you when they are going through a transition in age, a temporary stage of a young man from the age of 17 to 21, there are a lot of changes in their thoughts, in their processing, their understanding, and their development. I think it’s very important as a coach that I provide that foundation for them that they can count on me to be consistent regardless of when they are inconsistent or regardless of when their emotions are high or their emotions are low. I try to be that stable foundation for the guys in my room that they know when they come to work everyday, regardless of how they are or what’s going on in their life, they know that they can count on me to be at a certain level."

Richard was in dire need of some consistency, a force that could help to center a rapidly scattering young man. A lifeline was thrown.

He didn’t take it.

"Coach Simon, real supportive, but he knew how messed up I was," Richard said. "He couldn’t do nothing about it, and he couldn’t say nothing to anyone, but it happened out of nowhere. What could he say to the staff members at the time? Everything you all are telling me, I really don’t care to hear."

The combination of pain, frustration, and isolation was too much for any message to break through.

California v Arizona State Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

"I’m still hurt at the end of the day. I’m getting MRIs back-to-back, and they’re telling me there’s nothing they can do about it," Richard said. "Everything you’re telling me, it don’t really matter to me. Let’s just hurry up and get through the season."

As the season wore on, Richard was caught in the middle of two diverging extremes. On one hand, he was laying everything he had on the line to try to stay in the lineup and help his teammates. On the other, he was drifting further away from them.

"I’m hurt. I can’t move. I can’t lift. I can’t do anything," Richard said. "I’m out here risking body parts to play in the game, just to show my teammates I’m hurt but I’m still here. I’m taking Advil just to get through practice. I’m popping pills. I feel like a pill hound, that’s what I felt like."

Eventually, the retreat from the team became more pronounced and noticeable. They saw the change in his demeanor, as well as to his performance.

"It had a bad effect. It was a horrible effect," Richard said. "It brought a negativity towards the team. They thought I was being negative."

Questions emerged as to what was going on with him. Richard had valid answers for those questions, but he continued to pull away and hide the true nature of the problems. It is only human nature that rumors and speculation filled the void.

"I think they took it as I wasn’t bought in all the way," said Richard. "They thought I was being a jerk, being negative to everybody...which I was, I’m not going to lie. But you all don’t understand the pain I was going through. Then I had some people telling me that I’m really not hurt."

Soon enough, one speculative narrative exceeded all others.

"People were taking it that I was jealous that Kalen was having his success."

Since their days as ASU recruiting targets, Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage have been strongly connected in the eyes of those in and around the program. They were both highly-touted four-star members of the Sun Devils’ 2014 recruiting class who played key roles as true freshman that year.

However, they took some time to warm up to each other.

Texas Tech v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

"Me and Demario, I’ll be honest, we really didn’t like each other when we came on our official visits," Ballage said. "But when we got here, we clicked. First impressions weren’t very good, but we clicked."

On-field success smoothes over a lot of rough edges.

As Richard was breaking out during his 1,000-yard season in 2015, Ballage was beginning to tap into his vast potential. After missing three games early in the season due to illness, he became a potent complement to Richard, amassing over 700 yards from scrimmage.

Expectations for the pair were sky-high heading into 2016.

With Richard operating at much less than his best, it did not take long for Ballage to assume a larger role in the Sun Devil offense.

In the season’s second week, Ballage grabbed national headlines by setting an FBS record with eight touchdowns in a single game. Meanwhile, Richard quietly gutted out 109 yards of his own, earning more recognition with his blocking efforts to help pave the way for Ballage’s run into the record books.

Richard’s initial reaction to Ballage’s emergence: What took so long?

"You think I’m mad over another man’s success? More power to him!" Richard said. "They should have been doing this with Kalen. Kalen and I have been here for four years, why is he just now getting this in his third year? We were supposed to blow up together, and you’re telling me that I’m hating on this man’s success?"

As the season continued, Ballage took center stage as the featured weapon in offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey’s gameplan. Over the season’s final six games, Ballage registered 94 touches while Richard had just 52. Of course, Richard was just one of many key offensive pieces severely impacted by injuries, but it didn’t mean that selfish sentiment didn’t crop up as his role diminished.

"It was his time," Richard concedes. "I never hated on him. But I was still selfish at the end of the day. I was like ‘Damn, that’s supposed to be me. Do your thing, Kalen. You’re going to have to take over the game.' I was never mad, it was just the fact that I couldn’t move. I couldn’t do what I wanted to do."

Even though Richard maintains that he was never resentful of Ballage’s success, their relationship was not perfect. It had an ebb and flow throughout the year, and like most every relationship in Richard’s life that fall, it ultimately suffered.

"Me and Kalen had our days too," Richard said. "You do you, I’m going to do me. Same thing with Reggie (Bush) and LenDale White (at USC). Some days, we’d go together and wouldn’t even talk the whole week. It was a snowball effect on the team. They see me and him going at it. It started forming a lot of stuff."

In a locker room already dealing with a prolonged losing streak and a historic rash of injuries, the perceived feud between their two star backs started creating internal tensions and schisms. That, in turn, fueled Richard’s resentment.

"It had an effect on the team because a lot of people on the team thought the same thing," Richard said. "Ya’ll not hurt. Ya’ll not going through what I’m going through. I’m risking my career to bust my tail for you all for 12 games, and somebody is going to tell me I’m not hurt and just mad about another man’s success."

But how could they know the real reason? Those in the Sun Devil locker room, like most everyone on the outside, were left in the dark.

"That was my fault, because I wasn’t letting people know what it really was," Richard said.

Bent but not broken, the bond of backfield brotherhood did eventually win out.

"He did isolate himself, but at the end of the day, me and him are brothers," Ballage said.

Texas Tech v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

As Ballage became the offense’s focal point down the stretch, Richard began to wonder about his future. He still had a year of eligibility and a redshirt year, so the idea of transferring away from ASU became an option.

"I did think about transferring. I talked to Coach Lindsey, and I asked about my role here. Do I need to transfer or what?"

Richard wasn’t the only one thinking his football future could be outside of Tempe. Other programs took notice.

"Division I football can be really cheesy because other teams see another player is not getting his due and they send vultures in the form of friendly faces," said Mike Richard, Demario’s father. "‘He can leave and go here. We want him. We need him.’ As many friends as a coach has in big-time football, he has as many enemies, and you can tell."

The disgruntled back met with the offensive coordinator, and Lindsey assured Richard that he was still viewed as a key piece of the future. But something more kept him at Arizona State.

"I think it was just something in the wind, and when a slight breeze came, it was not thought about because it was the easy way out," Mike Richard said. "He sent me a long text. ‘Dad, I’ve put blood, sweat, and tears in with these guys in camp, in practice, in these hot days. I’m not going to leave them.’"

So Demario Richard was staying. That was settled.

But the hard process of turning things around was still to come, and it was time he started getting some help.

Real Recognizes Real

"He’s the only person who really knew everything."

It made sense. After all, Armand Perry could understand better than anyone what Demario Richard was going through.

The bond between Richard and Perry goes beyond that of roommates, teammates, or friends. They’re family.

"You gravitate towards people who have the same mindset and the same goals as you," Perry said. "Real recognizes real."

"Facts," agreed Richard.

Richard and Perry were both members of ASU’s 2014 recruiting class, and they first met at the spring game of that year.

"From the first time we met, we just hit it off," Perry said. "We just asked each other, ‘Hey, when we come back in the fall, do you want to room with me?’ It went from there."

The pair has been looking out for each other since the beginning. Perry reported to ASU over that summer, but some issues prevented Richard from arriving until right before fall camp opened in August. For Richard, Perry became his direct line to what was happening within the program.

"The whole time he was preparing to report, I was keeping him updated with what we were doing," Perry said.

One thing stood out above the rest.

"‘Whatever you do, just run,’" Richard remembers of Perry’s warning. Perry was referring to Coach Griswold’s famous (or infamous, to many participants) conditioning workouts. Richard was skeptical.

NCAA Football: Cactus Bowl-West Virginia vs Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

"Man, it can’t be that hard," Richard remembers thinking.

He was wrong.

"Yeah, I should have listened to him," Richard conceded with a laugh.

That summer, Arizona State was coming off a 10-win season in which they won the Pac-12 South division, and both Richard and Perry were ticketed for playing time as true freshmen. They were being thrown into the fire, but at least they were doing so with each other’s support.

"Before our freshman year, we sat together and talked," Perry remembered. "Why wait? Our time is now. Let’s really do this. We were roommates freshman year, and we both set goals to both be freshman All-Americans. We started our careers off nice."


Richard totaled over 600 yards from scrimmage and scored eight touchdowns, while Perry made 34 tackles, notched 2.5 sacks, and returned his first career interception for a touchdown to seal a win over Washington.

They were already Sun Devils, but they would soon team up with another group. It wasn’t long into their friendship that Richard noticed that "CBA" was a recurring thing with Perry. It obviously carried importance, and Richard was curious.

"As me and AP got closer, I asked him ‘What’s the deal with this?’" Richard said.

CBA stands for Code Black Athletics. It is was a movement that began with a group of student-athletes at Perry’s former high school, Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas.

"We’re basically a group of young of individuals who are pushing each other to strive towards success and strive to be the best version of yourself every day," Perry said. "We all felt like we should preach athletics instead of gang banging. Instead of violence, strive for athletics, and strive for education, and push your brothers to the limit. When D-Rich and I linked up, I told him we should push this. We should continue to pick up athletes and support each other."

Over the years, CBA has spread to now include over 20 members, all of whom play at various Division I programs. Recently, they’ve held charity events, passed out food to the less fortunate, and hosted free youth football camps.

Northern Arizona v Arizona State Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

"They took me in like a family," Richard said. "It’s just a bunch of kids who know each other, who live in different states. It’s my family. They welcomed me with open arms."

They were close. They were teammates, and they were brothers. Last fall, they needed every bit of that bond to endure their shared hardships.

As Richard enjoyed a successful follow up to his freshman season, Perry was not as lucky. After starting the first two games of the year, he was lost for the year due to a severe ankle injury. He used his redshirt and looked to come back strong in 2016.

He managed to make 10 starts last season, but throughout the year, he battled painful shoulder, hip, and foot injuries. Like Richard, it was a struggle for Perry to just get out of bed each day, let alone undertake the physical rigors of college football.

"We would go through practice, after-practice treatment, go through school," Perry said. "When we would come home, we were both hurting so bad to the points that we would just stay in our rooms, and all we could do is rest. From the minute we got home, we were resting. There would be days that I wouldn’t even see Demario. That’s all we could do to survive to get ready for the next game."

They felt no one could understand what they were going through. No one except each other.

"There were days that he had to come help me," Richard said. "‘You want to go eat? Nah, I can’t move.’ We used to talk. ‘How does your body feel? I’m 10 percent. I’m hurting.’ The effect that it had on the team, I’m not talking to anyone but my roommate.

"He knew what I was going through, and his family backed me 110 percent. Nobody really knew what we were going through but us. I bottled myself up, and when I bottle myself up, I don’t want to talk. I might come at you in a way that I really don’t mean, but it’s just the fact that there’s really nothing I can do about my situation right now."

School, football, recover. School, football, recover. Rinse and repeat. It wore them down, but they continued to find strength through their friendship.

Notre Dame v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

CBA against everybody. CBA against the world.

"When you have someone that you are so close with, you are ready to do anything for that person," Perry said. "Me and him, we were vibing so well. Anything he needed, I was there for him. Anything I needed, he was there for me. At the same time, when he needed his space, I respected that. I needed my space a lot, and he respected that.

"It’s a good brotherhood and a good friendship."

This summer, Perry opted to medically retire from football. The physical and mental toll of his numerous injuries was too much. Yet while he will no longer be with the team, the Richard-Perry tandem in Tempe will continue for at least one more year.

Armand’s little brother Alex, a coveted four-star defensive back from Bishop Gorman, signed with the Sun Devils in February. Richard has taken the new AP under his wing, and the legacy will live on.

"I feel like it’s my responsibility to take care of Alex," Richard said. "If something happens with Alex, they (Perry’s parents) are going to call me."

Real recognize real, after all.

His friendship with Perry provided some much-needed support during his lowest point. But in order to truly start a turnaround, Richard needed to rediscover the edge that had defined him.

He needed to get back to his roots.

Get Hit, Get Up Fast

When Demario Richard is at his best on the field, his playing style mirrors his demeanor. He lowers his shoulders and runs right at a defender, more often than not powering over him. Richard’s feet never stop moving, pushing hard for every last yard, foot, and inch.

Like father, like son.

Mike Richard presides over an athletic family. His brother played baseball for the New York Yankees. One of his daughters, Shaquina, was a point guard at Kansas, while one of his sons, Mikul Jr., was a standout high school player.

Mike himself was a pretty good hoops player in his day.

"I was the man!" he said.

And then there was his youngest, his baby boy Demario. Fathers and sons obviously have a strong connection, but these two share a unique rapport. So much of what makes up Demario comes directly from Mike, perhaps nothing more than the never-back-down, tell-it-like-it-is air of confidence.

New Mexico v Arizona State Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

As Mike puts it, "He’s like his dad. He wears his heart on his sleeve."

Being a sports-oriented family, it was not a question as to whether Demario would start competing on the fields and courts of their Lancaster, Calif. hometown. The "when" can be traced back to one particular moment.

When Demario was five years old, he was outside playing on a Fisher Price basketball hoop. Mike and Mike’s father were watching. A neighborhood kid, twice Demario’s age, came by and the two started playing against each other.

"Demario dunked on this kid like Shaq, and he looked over at this kid with a look like ‘Yeah!’" Mike remembered. "I looked at my dad, and I saw that he was tickled, and I said, ‘He’s ready.’"

So Demario followed in his brother’s footsteps and joined a Pop Warner team, where he was placed at defensive end. Understandably, there were some first game jitters for both father and son.

"We were driving to the game with Demario and I’m praying, ‘Please let him do good. Don’t let him get hurt,’" said Mike.

Turns out, his son was not the one who needed a prayer.

Demario and his brother, Mikul Demario and his brother, Mikul

"I think the first quarter, Demario had 11 sacks," Mike said. "The quarterback, he saw Demario coming around the end again, and he just threw the ball up in the air. ‘Oh my God, Dad. Here he comes again!’"

Demario’s Pop Warner coach was James Heywood, a revered local coach who Mike credits with helping add another layer of toughness to the young star-in-the-making.

"He knew what I was going to be from the first time I stepped on the field," Demario said of Heywood. "He just knew. He had a knowledge for the game."

Heywood also knew that he had a potential star in the backfield.

Later in the year, Heywood’s team was winning big and had triggered the mercy rule. On their next possession, starting deep on their own side of the field, Heywood turned to the parents seated nearby and said, "Watch this."

Heywood inserted Demario into the game at running back, and his first ever carry turned out to be pretty memorable.

"Demario carried the kids on his back all the way down the field and scored," Mike said.

Heywood then turned back to the parents and said, "That’s my tailback next year."

Washington State v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

To Demario, it was just another play made. On to the next one.

"So this is what it feels like to score," remembered Demario of that first touchdown. "Now let me play defense again."

The next year, he had found his new home at running back. He was an unquestioned star on the field, but those early days also taught him some valuable lessons.

"Demario started to learn about adversity when his senior coach in Pop Warner, when they were up by 20 or 30, would take Demario out of the game," said Mike. "That was hard for Demario to deal with. He would be really upset by it, but he learned to understand it and what the meaning was behind it."

He also did not have to look far to learn another, harder lesson.

Demario’s brother was a talented football player. He had all of the skills to go far in the sport except one: work ethic. He did not like to practice and soon gave up the game.

"I know what not to do," Demario said of his brother’s example. "I know what not to do when it comes to this man right here."

Demario was already much more diligent in his approach, but his father would make sure that only grew stronger.

"My dad didn’t want to lose me to the streets," Demario said. "He lost my brother to the streets. My brother was like ‘I’m done with football. It’s not going to do anything for me.’ He didn’t like to practice. He (Mike) always had me constantly doing something."

Demario Richard in high school
Courtesy of Mike Richard

"Demario has always been told that his attitude determines his altitude," Mike said. "He knows that. All my kids know that. Bump your head, scrape a knee, break an arm, get back up and keep going. I’ve always kept the kids busy, so trouble has never been a part of their life."

Just about everything in Demario’s youth revolved around sports. He loved the physical nature and simply staying active. During the summers, Mike and Demario would decide which of the many camps, passing leagues, and tournaments to attend. In addition to football, Demario also ran track and played basketball.

That left little chance for him to get bored or to get into much trouble. He also kept a tight circle of close friends. However, he was a kid and got into his share of scrapes.

During the summers, he would be at whatever football camp was on their schedule during the day.

"But when nighttime comes, I’m running the streets," Demario said. "That’s another place where I got that mean, nitty gritty, tough attitude from," he said. "I saw a lot of stuff growing up."

He avoided any serious trouble because he knew what would happen if he didn’t.

"Demario stays away from trouble because he knows he has to answer to me," Mike said.

Keeping Demario, or any kid, on the straight and narrow in Lancaster was a difficult task. The city, located about an hour north of Los Angeles, could be a rough place, especially for those looking to make something of their lives.

"He made sure I was always on the right path because where I’m from, it’s hectic out there," Demario said. "People from where I’m from, they don’t really make it out. It’s like a crab-in-a-bucket effect: One gets to the top, and somebody tries to pull you down. A lot of people don’t have their dad in their life, so I’m just thankful to have mine."

"People are always trying to pull you down," Mike said.

But Lancaster was also home, and the Richards’ home is a supportive environment.

"Demario has a great support system, he has family everywhere," Mike said. "Demario is famous out here. He is loved by pretty much everybody. Cops, everybody. There’s not only myself, and my wife, and my family looking out, it’s the community. We greatly appreciate it. Everybody in this community won’t allow Demario to stray from the path."

It only increased as Demario made a name for himself. They looked out for him, watched over him, cheered him on. That certainly did not end when he left to go to play Arizona State.

"My whole city changed from DirecTV to Spectrum so they can get Pac-12 Network," Demario said. "A lot of people changed their whole setup just for me. I got the whole city behind me."

They still have his back to this day.

"You know it’s big when you can go back to any high school, no matter what high school it is, and get the keys to their facility, get the keys to their field, come in anytime you want to speak to the kids or speak to the staff," Demario said. "That’s how you know it’s real. I have that support staff, so now I don’t want to see anybody let down."

Throughout his life, Demario has had plenty of people supporting him, helping him, and loving him. Every success, every setback. In all of those situations, Mike—or as he’s listed in Demario’s iPhone, "Old Head"—has been first in line to be there for him.

"He’s my biggest fan and my biggest critic," Demario said. "If I’m wrong, he’s going to tell me I’m wrong. He’s going to back me 110 percent, but if I’m wrong, I’m wrong. Big role model in my life. He made sure I always had what I needed."

Which sometimes included a motivational kick in the butt if Demario even thought about taking the easy road.

"I never wanted to hear my dad’s mouth," Demario said. "I wasn’t backing down from nobody, period. I knew that if I did something soft, I was going home to hear it from my dad, hear it from my brother. I’m not about to go home and hear none of their mouth. They’re not about to punch on me, none of that."

Demario Richard and his father, Mike Richard
Courtesy of Mike Richard

"He has no quit in him at all," Mike said. "Demario has been taught: You get hit, you get up fast."

It was that fortitude that was put to the test last season, for both son and father.

"This past season, as his biggest fan and his biggest critic was hard," said Mike.

From his seats in the stands, Mike could see the pain in his son’s face. He knew Demario was badly hurting.

"As a dad, you wish you could give it to me, take it away so he’ll be alright," Mike said. "He suffered. Not only with the injuries, but he felt that he was being treated a certain way. He was so hurt after these games."

So when the season mercifully came to an end, there was only one thing to do.

No Place Like Home

Demario Richard needed to leave and get far away.

"I’m over it. I’m ready to go," Demario said. "My dad was calling me telling me to come home. He could see me coming out of the tunnel, see my face and know I was hurting."

"I told him ‘You look funny out there, even in those first games that you were healthy,’" Mike said. "‘You don’t look the same. Something is in your head, and you gotta get it out of there and get going.’"

The season from hell was over. The time for recovery was here. Over the semester break, Demario went back home to California, and true to form, Mike pulled no punches.

"My dad was like ‘You look like a slouch. What have you been doing?’" Demario said.

It was time to heal, both mentally and physically, and the plan of action for the body was straightforward.

First, he started eating better: plenty of home-cooked meals and no junk food.

"Fast food will slow you down," Mike said.

It also included an aggressive approach to treating his initial injury. Mike set Demario up with Dr. Jackie Windham, who has earned a reputation as "the Muscle Whisperer".

Early on, those whispers were more like shouts.

"She attacks the core of the injury, and you never have that same injury again," Mike said. "She’s been on TV. She’s famous. She worked it all out. It’s painful. The initial visits on an injury are painful. After you heal from that, you’re fine."

"It hurts! It hurts very bad," Demario admitted. "It’s like opening up your blood cells and getting the blood going back to where it was going. I did that.

"Then rehab, rehab, rehab. My rehab lady told me what to do to get back in shape. She had a long talk with me and told me what to do. Stay positive at all times. I took that and ran with it."

The treatment also included other forms of therapy.

"A lot of acupuncture. A lot of massages," Demario said. "Once I got through two or three of those, I went back and did some field work on my own, trying to get back moving."

Mike was also looking at other means to help his son, no matter how elaborate it may be.

"I’m thinking if we have to get him an oxygen chamber," Mike said. "Go sit in a cryotube? Whatever it takes.’"

Slowly but surely, Demario’s body was healing. The pain, which had been an overbearing presence for months, was subsiding.

Getting his mind right and returning to his normal self would be a tougher task.

"It was a slow process," said Mike. "He had to be around people who loved him, are familiar with him, and treat him like Demario and not Super Demario."

"I connected back to my roots, and it was time to go to work," Demario said.

The Richard Family
Courtesy of Mike Richard

Step one: Cut out the noise.

"When I got home, I turned my phone off, blocked a lot of people," Demario said. "I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I put in the work to get better."

Step two: An ASU detox.

Being back in Lancaster, Demario had plenty of loving family members supporting him. It helped the focus take a much-needed shift away from the Sun Devils and onto the Richards.

"We don’t have to talk about sports, we don’t have to talk about ASU, we don’t have to talk about any of that," Demario said. "We’re going to talk about what you want to do. I was taking advantage of it. When I came home, we didn’t have to talk about football, so we can talk about anything."

"He needed, I believe, time away from ASU to get the bad taste out of his mouth and the negative monkey off his back," Mike said.

Step three: Eating a slice of humble pie.

"When you’re here at home, you’re just Demario," Mike said. "You’re nobody special. You’re just Demario. You got to be humble. Move your car. Take the trash out. Get that room together. The normal things that I thought that would help him."

"My dad has been treating me like a man since I was young," Demario said. "Take care of your responsibilities, and you won’t get in trouble. You only have to tell me once. You tell me one thing, and that’s it."

The Richard Family
Courtesy of Mike Richard

With each chore, he took another step back towards normalcy. Each passing day, the Super fell away, taking with it all of the baggage that it carries. Soon enough, an unburdened Demario was left.

"Super Demario? Super Demario is out and about, doing appearances, not really getting the advantages of home," Demario said. "I’m at home now."

"Demario just has to be Demario," Mike said. "He wanted to shed the negative part of last season. We helped him with that by letting him be Demario and just do what you do."

It was a winning formula.

"A little familiarity with his surroundings and sending him to see Jackie, and having some downtime helped the process," Mike said. "He’s always been mentally strong. An overall rejuvenation, a big shot of family into him, and some rest. He knows that rest is just important as practice. He’s the better for it now."

Even from afar, the changes were evident.

"I talk to Demario every single day, so I know where he’s at the whole time," Armand Perry said of that Christmas break. "I don’t think Demario has gone anywhere. He went through something, he battled it. I think he got over it. It was just a hurdle in his life that he had to jump over."

Jump. Run. Cut.

Finally, he could do them once again.

"By the time I came back, it was winter workouts," Richard said. "The first thing we did for winter workouts was 150-yard shuttles. When I was moving, I was ‘Oh yeah. I feel good! Now I’m back!’"

As his body was getting back to full strength, Richard and the rest of the offensive players were dealt a setback when offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey left to take the same role at Auburn. After a 10-day search, ASU hired Alabama wide receivers coach Billy Napier to run their offense.

For Richard, it was his third offensive coordinator in three years, but he soon bought in to Napier’s philosophy.

"Here we go again," Richard said. "That’s what I was thinking. But Coach Napes is a helluva coach. He’s been around the best of the best. He came in and told us ‘When I ask you to do something, just do it. I’ve been to where you want to go. We have the potential and opportunity to do it here.’"

Richard’s first major test came in March when the team opened up spring practices. On the field, Coach John Simon liked what he saw.

"He definitely showed a burst," said Simon. "Showed some lateral quickness, the ability to make a guy miss instead of just defeat a guy with power. Able to run around them a little bit, able to run through them a little bit. He did a good job this spring of putting together a good camp and showcasing all the things that you want to see out of your running backs. He also did a good job in protection as well as route running."

"When I looked at him in spring, he showed me some video of him in early practices, the movement is there," Mike Richard said.

Last year, he fell out of shape and his weight rose to around 230 pounds. It’s a much different story now for him, as he expects to open the year around 215.

"(I’m) in shapez," Richard. "Not shape, but shapez with a Z."

Napier is looking to emphasize the running game much more than ASU has in recent years, and with Richard, Kalen Ballage, and newcomer Eno Benjamin, he has the tools to do just that.

UCLA v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

"We want to take advantage of all the skillsets we have in that room," Simon said. "Billy understands what Demario’s skillset is. He understands what Kalen Ballage’s skillset is. He wants to be sure that he has an offense that allows those guys to be successful and puts them in a position to utilize their skillsets to the best of their ability."

Simon had seen the depth, both on and off the field, to which Richard had fallen just a few months before. In the spring, he was pleased by the turnaround he had seen.

"I thought Demario came in focused going into his last spring as an Arizona State Sun Devil," Simon said. "I think he realized the expectations that he set for himself, that we have for him, and the opportunity. He definitely came in and worked hard and had a great attitude and showcased some ability. We’re excited about where he is."

Richard’s coaches weren’t the only ones impressed by the change they saw.

Throughout fall camp, Richard has run with the first-team offense along with Ballage, often times in two-back sets that figure to pose serious problems for opposing defenses.

"He’s going to be a beast," Marcus Ball said. "He has boulders for legs. He runs the ball hard, low to the ground. Really great vision. He’s really becoming a student of his craft. D-Rich is going to have ultimate success this season after overcoming what he has overcome. When you overcome something like that in your life, it inspires you to do great things. He has, and he has that mature mindset. The sky's the limit for him."

After everything he has been through, he won’t let anything slow him down in 2017.

"In my head, I’m ‘I’m back, baby!’ I’m back to myself," Richard said. "I still hurt a little bit, but it’s not as bad as it was. If I can play a whole season at 30 percent, a little bit of pain is not going to really matter to me."

The Road Traveled and the Road Ahead

"I’m 20 years old, but with the things I’ve been through, I’m really 30. Almost 35."

The physical anguish. The self-doubt. The toll on his relationships. It would be a lot for any person to bear, let alone a 19-year-old kid away from home dealing with the pressures of being a high-profile student athlete.

But while you won’t catch Demario Richard make any excuses for it, he’d rather not go through it again. However, his father thinks there was a silver lining. Perhaps more.

"This injury and what he went through was necessary to not only put everything into perspective, but to get Demario back down to Earth in terms of priorities, getting all your ducks in a line, and to be a better player and teammate.

"Last year, Demario grew up. He’ll run through a brick wall for you, but you have to give him the opportunity to do that. It made him a better football player and a better person."

His son disagrees on its necessity, but Demario Richard does believe last year provided an invaluable lesson.

"I don’t think I really needed it," Richard said. "But it showed me that it can be taken from you that fast. Don’t play with it. Don’t get big headed. Stay humble. Stay hungry."

Last year hurt in every way. It knocked him down, but not out.

One reason why?

"I’ve been through worse stuff than that."

It was early in the morning on the second-to-last day of Demario Richard’s sixth-grade year. He was in his room getting ready for school—a field trip day!—when the doorbell rang. Given the early hour, it seemed odd.

Demario’s mother got up to answer the door. A few men asked about a car that Mike Richard had listed for sale, so she went upstairs to wake him up.

The men at the door then rushed into the house. It was a home invasion.

"I get woken up to a gun in my face," Mike said. "Me being who I am, I jump up, and the guy is telling me to lay face down on the floor."

From his room, Demario heard screams and rushed out. He saw the terrifying scene unfolding and fled back into his room. His older brother ran out of the house to a neighbor’s home to get help.

This is where the Richard family toughness, that never-back-down mentality, came out in full force.

"The grizzly bear part of me came to life," Mike said. "He’s pointing a gun at me, and I lift him up and throw him down the stairs. He lands at the bottom of the stairs kind of in a funny way, but he’s laying on top of the gun. When I get to the bottom of the stairs to finish him—and to be honest, I was going to kill him—he jumps up."

The burglar pointed his gun at Mike and shouted threats before heading towards the door. Before he left, he stopped and turned around.

And then fired.

The bullet struck Mike in the chest, just two inches away from his heart.

"I just started crying," Demario remembered. "You could smell the gunsmoke in the air"

Perhaps it was the adrenaline, perhaps it was because Mike is a big man, but he remained standing.

"My dad, he’s still walking!" Demario remembered. But he was still terrified.

"I’m thinking my dad is going to die, and that I won't get to see him again," he said. "This was the first time I ever saw my grandpa cry. The first time I ever saw my aunt cry. This is really real."

So before being taken to the hospital, Mike gave Demario a thumbs up.

"Dad’s good, man," he told his son. Demario returned it with a nod as if to say "Yeah, I know."

Mike was airlifted to the hospital, and incredibly, returned home just six hours later. The family and community support was immense. Just a few days later, Mike was back out at football practice.

The perpetrators were never caught.

Mike, a man of strong faith, felt there was a degree of divine intervention at play, and it involved his youngest son.

"I believe that one of the reasons that I’m here is to make sure that Demario is fine," Mike said. "I’m about family. I told Demario that it was just another hurdle that your dad had to jump."

A terrifying lesson learned, but one that helped to harden him for rough times ahead.

"That’s adversity," Demario said. "A lot of stuff don’t really faze me. That (last season) opened my eyes, but it wasn’t the worst things I ever went through."

When Demario Richard comes out for pre-game warmups, he immediately looks for his family in the stands.

"I come out for early outs, I’m looking up to see if they’re there yet," Richard said. "If they’re not there by early outs, I’ll go back in. By the time to come out with the pads on, I’ll look up and see them and be ‘Alright, I’m good. They’re there.’"

Those are just the first of many during a game day. The looks to the stands have been a core element of the Richards’ routine.

California v Arizona State Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

"During the game, I can spot my dad from everybody around," Richard said. "When we first break the huddle out from a TV timeout or something, I’ll look. I’ll see my dad, and if he’s sitting with his arms folded, I know, ‘You better do something!’"

Oh, those folded arms. The loudest message heard in a rocking stadium is totally silent.

"He knows when I’m upset with something he did or does because I fold my arms," Mike Richard said. "I’ve been doing it since he was a kid. In the stands, I’ll just fold my arms. It doesn’t necessarily have to be him, it could be something the coaches are doing or whatever.

"My arms were folded a lot last year."

"I’m basically the little version of him," Demario said. "I can read his mind, and he can read my mind. ‘Let’s go! Make a play!’"

Win or lose, knowing that his family is there to cheer him on gives him an added layer of comfort. That comfort has been a crucial component to Richard’s success over the years, and it’s something that his family is more than happy to make possible.

"When I dropped Demario off for his first day of school at ASU, I was shaken up," Mike Richard said. "I got on the freeway, got halfway down the 10, I had tears in my eyes. I took some pictures of him walking into the athletic building. We go to the games because, being only 400 miles from home, Demario has to see familiar faces. He has to see familiar faces to be comfortable."

It wasn’t always easy, and it wasn’t always as accommodating. Love, after all, takes many forms.

"When Demario first got to the school, after those first weeks of practice, he called me and said, ‘Dad, I don’t think this is for me. It’s hard, but I don’t think it’s for me,’" Mike said. "I think he was homesick. I said, ‘Demario, you’ve prepared for this your whole life. It gets tough on you the first couple of weeks, and you’re ready to call it a day? You are a man. You are the son of a man. Don’t call me again with this bullshit.’"

It worked.

"The next time I saw him was at Camp T, and he was balling freshman year," Mike Richard said. "If Demario is comfortable, you will see the best of Demario. Do we still need to be there? Probably not. Do I want to be there? Heck yeah. I love it."

Those rough first few weeks away at college made a deep impression on the then 17-year-old Demario Richard. Like his father, his veteran teammates helped to provide the same comfort level at his new home that he had at his old.

"Every freshman has that stage where they just don’t know how to deal with it," Demario said. "I had D.J. Foster in my right pocket, Jaelen Strong in my left, Jamil (Douglas) in my back pocket, TK (Taylor Kelly) in my other back pocket, and I went to them and said, ‘Man, I’m about to go home, I can’t take it.’ They said, ’No, you’re not going anywhere. You’re going to be straight. You have to work through it. You have to embrace the grind and attack it. This is your profession now. You put all this time and effort into it, and you want to throw it all away?’"

Their message was received loud and clear, but perhaps even more than his teammates, it was the thought of going away to a big university and coming back with his tail between his legs that motivated him even more.

Cal Poly v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

"I didn’t want to let anybody from my community down," Demario said. "If I go back home, they’ll look at me like ‘You blew it. Why would you come back here?’"

It’s hard to overstate the importance that his hometown and his community have towards Demario’s motivations.

"They are going to push me to death, even when I’m done with football," he said. "The city. My family. The younger generation that watches me play. My godparents, both sets. My aunt. Just knowing that I can do something that really hasn’t been done in my city. I can really have an impact."

With every rush and every yard this season, Richard will be carrying with him the support and hopes of many others. He’ll be playing for those back home and for those in the stands.

Most of all, he’ll be playing for one who is no longer here.

From the outset, they were close. They even shared a birthday, although three years apart. Mike Richard and his younger sister Monique would talk daily, and when Demario was born, she was the perfect choice to be his godmother.

She soon became so much more. Including an occasional escape option.

"I was basically their son," said Demario. "They didn’t have kids. If I got into it with my parents, ‘Nah, I’m leaving. I’m going to my Auntie’s house.’"

She would be a formative and guiding presence throughout Demario’s life. Monique would go to every one of Demario’s games that she could, sometimes even taking days off of work in order to attend.

"She wanted him to be great and to succeed at whatever he wanted to do," Mike said. "When she felt he was out of line, she got on him. He took that criticism and it motivated him to do what he needs to do. She was really a big supporter of Demario. Next to myself, the biggest supporter. She was happy that he continued on doing great things from the high school level onto the college level."

Monique helped to instill and reinforce the importance of a strong work ethic. She was often the mediator in the family, providing a stable foundation for others. And she was happy that he chose a college that was relatively close.

"She was so proud. She was ecstatic," Mike said of his sister. "She was very happy that she chose ASU."

She was, in essence, a third parent.

"It was so big to me, and it was the greatest thing that could happen," said Mike of Monique’s part in Demario’s life. "When she was needed, she came through. Emotionally, monetarily. She was just a blessing. I appreciated her so much, and I still do, for everything she helped do."

This past April, she was battling pneumonia when she cried out to call an ambulance. She couldn't breathe. Things quickly got worse. During the ambulance ride, they had to bring her back four different times.

Demario and Monique

Mike received a call late in the night and rushed over. When he got there, she was hooked up to several machines. Tragically, she soon passed away.

"She’s here, and then she’s gone," Mike said. "You can never be prepared for death."

It was absolutely devastating.

"I lost my aunt, the closest person to me besides my (immediate) family," Demario said. "I lost her. I’m numb to everything. There’s nothing else worse than that. The only thing worse would be if I lost both of my parents, and that was one of my parents. I’m numb to everything."

When Demario came home for the funeral, there were plenty of tears as father and son shared in their grief.

"I ain’t never felt him like that," Mike remembered. "It shook me up."

"That’s a real big piece of me that is gone," Demario said.

Demario and Monique

Monique Denae Richard Roberts is gone in body, but not in spirit.

She lives on in the lessons she imparted to him over the years. She was an aunt, a parent, a role model, and an unconditional supporter.

"Her being in Demario’s life absolutely made him a better person," said Mike. "She is not only deeply missed, she will forever be a part of our lives."

She wanted nothing more than to see him succeed, on and off the field.

"Her legacy will be for Demario to reach the highest highs that he can reach and to be a productive person in life," Mike said. "Her legacy will be to just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward."

"She’s not there, but she’s there," Demario said. "I know she’s watching. I know I’m good. I know she’s got me. She’s not going to steer me in the wrong direction."

Those looks to his family in the stands will never be the same.

"It’s going to hurt," Demario said. "I might shed a tear that first game, and I might shed a tear Senior Night. That Senior Night game is going to hurt the most. I might shed a couple of tears. We were just talking about that.

"I know she will be watching."

All Eyes on Him

When Demario Richard was nine years old, he was watching the son of a family friend play in a high school playoff game.

On a walk to the snack bar, he spotted Keyshawn Johnson, then a Dallas Cowboy and a legend in southern California from his days at USC. Excited, he walked over the star wide receiver.

"Mr. Johnson, can I have your autograph?" the young Richard asked.

"Get away from me, kid. I don’t sign autographs," Johnson said.

Richard turned away and took a few steps when he stopped and turned around.

"One day, you’re going to ask me for my autograph," the boy told the three-time Pro Bowler.

Johnson couldn’t help but laugh. As Richard walked back to his family, he wondered if his retort would get him in trouble with his father.

No chance.

"That’s Demario," said Mike Richard with a laugh.

Demario Richard still has that edge. He also bears plenty of scars. He’s been through hell and has come out stronger.

He’s grown up. In the blink of an eye, the 17-year-old freshman phenom is now a grizzled senior leader.

"His maturity level has grown by leaps and bounds," Mike Richard said. "It’s really strange to see that he actually is a grown man. In everything that he does now, he is a senior. He’s a veteran of that team. He’s needed to lead. Maybe it took all that he went through for him to finally embrace being a leader and doing what needs to be done. I think he’s open to the challenge."

"This year is not about me," Demario Richard said. "It’s about showing the young guys what to do. It’s about leading by example. I just want everyone to come out and play as hard as they can play."

He also wants to become more of a mentor off the field, using his past struggles and missteps to help his younger teammates.

"Steer them in a way that I didn’t take," Richard said. "My path wasn’t wrong, but to steer them on a better path. Make sure they good."

Entering his last year as a Sun Devil, Richard has a few things he wants to accomplish. He is working towards a degree in criminal justice and sociology. He also wants to cap his time on a high note.

Pac 12 Championship - Stanford v Arizona State

"I just want to be successful," Richard said. "I want to be able to come back here and be respected. I don’t want to leave here with a bad taste in my mouth."

Step one towards that goal comes on August 31 when his senior season begins.

"When Demario gets to smelling that grass, and the football season is starting, he changes," Mike Richard said. "He changes into something else."

The time for Baby Beast Mode is nigh.

"I expect Demario to leave his mark at ASU as a great young man and as a great role model," Armand Perry said. "On the field, a great running back. A hard-nosed running back who runs downhill and will lay it all on the line for his teammates."

Richard’s on-field goals go a little further. Ten or 20 years down the road, he wants ASU fans to remember him in a specific way.

"The most physical and dominant running back that’s ever walked the face of this Arizona State campus. Facts."

But first things first. Richard wants to get this Sun Devil program back on track.

"I just want to win."

He’s done everything he can to make that happen. He’s out from the sunken place. He’s healthy. He’s ready.

It’s showtime.

Sun Devil Nation will be watching.

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