The trip to Baton Rouge this weekend will have extra meaning for walk-on Auburn linebacker Ashton Richardson.
His father, Al, starred as a linebacker for LSU, so trips to Tiger Stadium during his childhood were frequent. It was also his family’s refuge when Hurricane Katrina ripped through his native New Orleans four years ago.
“Baton Rouge is definitely a special place for me,” said Richardson, who along with wide receiver DeAngelo Benton, is the only Louisiana native on Auburn’s roster. “I spent a lot of time there growing up.”
Richardson, a 6-foot, 190-pound sophomore, has found a niche with the Tigers, working on every one of Auburn’s special teams but narrowing his focus to kickoff coverage lately. His five tackles are the most among Auburn’s walk-ons.
“He is one of six or seven guys that have walked on and really helped this football team,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “He is a walk-on that has never asked for anything. He is out there working hard every day. When you have guys like Ashton step up to the plate and help you win, it is not only special for the football team but also for them. Ashton has been a huge help.”
Considering his history, it’s surprising it’s the Auburn Tigers and not the LSU Tigers he’s playing for.
After Katrina, Richardson’s high school in New Orleans was shut down. His mother got a job in Tallahassee, Fla., and his brother was away at school at McNeese State, but he and his father still needed a home. They went to live with Richardson’s grandmother in Baton Rouge, where he spent his junior and senior years at St. Michael High.
“By the time my school in New Orleans opened up, I’d already joined another team and another school,” he said. “And I felt it’d be best to stay in Baton Rouge with my grandmother.”
When it came time to choose a college, LSU seemed like it would be a logical fit. Al starred there as a linebacker from 1979-82, earning All-American and All-SEC honors his senior season. He still holds the school record for tackles in a game (21) and a career (452).
But he didn’t pressure his son into making a choice.
“When I was trying to decide where to go to school, I tried not to let his career influence mine,” Ashton said. “And I just kind of prayed on it and decided where I’d have the best opportunity.”
That place was Auburn, which was close enough to home for his father’s liking and provided Richardson with a chance as a walk-on. He came as just a student at first, but tried out after a semester and made the team last winter.
He’s worked at strong-side linebacker, getting in late during a few blowouts earlier this year, but his main responsibility has been on special teams.
“This year is going pretty good for me,” Richardson said. “I still feel like there is a lot more I can do and I have to improve a lot of ways. It’s definitely been good me getting this experience in my first year and my first time playing on this kind of stage.”
Still, the question remains: with his past allegiances pretty clear, which Tigers will the elder Richardson be rooting for this weekend?
Ashton didn’t hesitate: “He’s an Auburn Tiger.”