INDIANAPOLIS – Every year, college football players walk off with hardware at the end of the season.
Trent Richardson walked off with the hardware that counted the most.
The Heisman Trophy? No, he finished third in voting.
The Maxwell Award? No, but he was a finalist.
The Doak Walker Award? He won it, but there is something bigger.
Richardson and his Alabama teammates squared off for the national championship and came away 21-0 winners over LSU to earn the sport's biggest prize.
Richardson carried the ball and his share of the load for Alabama in 2011. The SEC Offensive Player-of-the-Year and unanimous first-team All-American averaged 131.9 rushing yards per game to rank fifth nationally. His 1,583 rushing yards were the second-highest seasonal total in Alabama history. He punctured the end zone 23 total times, 20 via the rush. Richardson averaged six yards per carry.
Richardson was one reason Alabama avenged an overtime loss to LSU to win the national title.
He accomplished a pretty big checklist of items, and the underclassman has set his sights on the NFL. He can be persuasive on why he should be drafted high in the process.
"Because the quality and the effort I'll bring to the game," said Richardson. "When it comes down to it, I'll be the dude that's on the field and getting the ball on third-and-three or fourth-and-one. Not to be cocky or anything, but I work on my game every day and even if it's not physical stuff, I work in the classroom learning plays and learning the defensive line and what the linebackers and safeties are doing so I can pick up my blitzes.
"I love to block. Everybody knows I can run the ball. I've never been caught from behind, so if anyone wants to question my speed, just look at the tape. When it comes to playing football, any game you want to just look at it a try to find a negative. A lot of people try to find a negative in your game and there aren't too many negatives I have. I don't fumble. That's one thing that I do not do."
Because he has walked in the end zone does not make Richardson believe he can walk on water. He works at his game like anyone else.
"I don't say one part of my game needs work, all of my game (needs improvement)," said Richardson. "When it comes down to being a football player, you need to work on everything, not just one part of your game. That's not me. I work on every part of my game when it comes to playing football."
Richardson follows the careers of a lot of NFL players at his position – Adrian Peterson, DeAngelo Williams, Ricky Williams, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice and Arian Foster. He also follows Mark Ingram, a predecessor at Alabama now with New Orleans.
Richardson does not daydream about joining those NFL performers. A daydreamer could not have made it out of Alabama, and Richardson will provide one quick reason why.
"Our coach's name is Coach (Nick) Saban. If you come in without mental toughness, Coach Saban will make sure you have it," said Richardson. "When it comes down to it, you have to have a mental toughness just to play at Alabama. If you're weak-minded, I don't think you'll last out there, because of the repetitions that we do and how hard we work out and just the fact that we all want to be winners.
"We haven't had a losing record since I've been there or since Julio (Jones has) been there or since Mark Ingram's been there. Since Coach Saban's been there, he just turned the whole program around. He just got back to Alabama traditional football and to have that, you have to be mentally tough for the great game that we play today."
Richardson stays tight with Ingram, saying, "Oh yeah, we talk pretty much and I was always his biggest critic and he's always my biggest critic. When it comes down to it, it's all out of love and we're just being competitive and being football players and just showing each other, 'Hey, I'm still on top of you when you're playing, and I'm still going to be looking out for you and we're going to take care for each other.'
"Both of us run hard and both of us just want to play the game of football and put our best effort forward. I have (nothing) negative (to) say about his game, and I'm pretty sure he has (nothing) negative (to) say about my game. When it comes down to it, we kind of play alike but we don't. We're two different running backs but at the same time, I can't say how we do stuff different. I think he puts more moves on people than what I would do. His vision for the game is crazy, when it comes to just seeing the hole right and seeing his one-cut move. That's something that I have to work on this year and pick up."
LOOKING AT THE 2012 NFL DRAFT'S RUNNING BACKS
THE LAST FIVE
The last five running backs drafted by the Colts:
2011: Delone Carter, fourth round, Syracuse
2009: Donald Brown, first round, Connecticut
2008: Mike Hart, sixth round, Michigan
2006: Joseph Addai, first round, LSU
2005: Anthony Davis, seventh round, Wisconsin
THIS YEAR'S DRAFT
An alphabetical list of running backs expected to be selected in the 2012 NFL Draft (*-denotes underclassman):
Vic Ballard, Mississippi State
Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M
Dan "Boom" Herron, Ohio State
LaMichael James, Oregon*
Doug Martin, Boise State
Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati
Trent Richardson, Alabama*
David Wilson, Virginia Tech*
Note: The content in this story and in the series of draft-eligible players that appears on Colts.com in no way reflects the position of the Indianapolis Colts.