TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- He’s been the next big thing.
Then he was better than a Heisman Trophy winner.
Now, less than two years after he arrived on the Alabama campus, Trent Richardson is the old man of the Crimson Tide backfield.
“I feel like Mark Ingram, for real,” he said, smiling as always.
But can he perform like him in a leading role? Richardson’s first public showing as the No. 1 comes in the 3 p.m. Saturday A-Day Game in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Running for 1,451 yards in his first two seasons, Richardson was almost always the complementary back to Ingram. So now that Ingram turns into a spectator for Saturday’s festivities featuring a new starting quarterback, the not-quite junior from Pensacola has seniority behind the line.
That’s cool with coach Nick Saban. He never really thought Richardson was too young to impact those around him.
“Trent’s always been a good leader for us; he really has,” Saban said. “I think a lot of the players respect him. He’s always been part of the peer group leadership program here. He’s been a leader on the field by the way he competes, the kind of person is, the way he practices every day. He’s a really good person, so he always affects the people around him in a positive way.”
So who becomes the new Trent Richardson now that the old one got the call-up?
Pedigree and performance point squarely to Dee Hart. Coming out of Florida with about the same degree of hype Richardson carried north, Hart has a head start on his freshman year by participating in spring practice.
In two scrimmages, Hart has 66 yards on 24 carries, trailing Richardson’s 88 yards on 18 attempts and Eddie Lacy’s 18 runs and 114 yards.
And unlike the Ingram/Richardson combination that included two similarly built players with equally bruising styles, the new 1-2 should involve some variety.
Though Richardson first said Hart was more of a speed back whom he compared to slippery Tennessee Titan Chris Johnson, he reversed field with a wink and a nod.
“No one has seen Dee Hart play,” Richardson said. “Everyone had seen me and Mark play, so they kind of knew what we bring to the table.
“When Dee gets in it’s going to be different. It’s like my freshman year. When I got in, they didn’t know what I was going to bring to the table. When Dee gets in. it’s going to be surprising to everyone because they don’t know what he’s going to bring to the table. Who knows? He may end up being a power back. He may not have to show that much speed because of the way he is, how patient he is, how he goes through the holes.”
Imparting the wisdom acquired from Ingram to the next generations is a top priority for Richardson. He still talks regularly with the projected first-round pick, who spent most of the spring training in New Orleans.
Fulfilling the promise that comes with replacing the most decorated back in program history is up there too.
Injuries slowed the end of Richardson’s sophomore season that opened with promise and a test-run at the top job. Ingram’s minor knee injury gave his sidekick the first two games of 2010 to simulate his 2011.
In an appetizer of an opener Richardson ran 10 times for 66 yards against an overmatched San Jose State defense. A week later, his 144-yards on 22 carries against Penn State on prime-time TV appeared to create even more backfield superiority debate.
That soon faded, though.
Only once more did Richardson crack the 100-yard barrier and the ground game, in general, never lived up to the big-time expectations of the preseason.
Health isn’t an issue for Richardson this spring after wearing a protective boot much of last season before suffering the minor knee injury at LSU. With Lacy and Hart behind him, a Richardson run at the Heisman isn’t an absurd possibility when the games start counting.
A stiff-armed reminder of his predecessor sits in a prominent location in Alabama’s football complex.
“I pass it on the way to every meeting, so it’s something I can’t miss,” Richardson said. “I look at it all the time.”
What about adding another to the collection?
“It’s something you’ve always got in your head,” Richardson said confidently. “You play this game. Yeah, you got the road to glory in the NCAA right here. I’m going to get that one day.”