When he was a senior football star at Los Alamitos High School in Carson, Calif., Shaq Richardson became a wanted man.
Nearly every school in the Pac-12 was interested in his services and saw a player with the skill and potential to play at the highest level.
USC was one of the few schools in the league that wasn’t interested in the prospect, even though Richardson prepped less than 15 miles from its campus. Richardson wanted to be recruited by the Trojans — it’s just that they didn’t want him.
“You want the big-time schools to want you,” Richardson said. “Did I cry about it? No.”
Instead, during his four-year career at Arizona, he’s gotten even.
The senior cornerback enters this week’s game against USC with a 1-2 record against the Trojans. He’ll have a chance to secure a .500 mark Thursday night, when the teams face each other at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“They’re a good team,” Richardson said. “Pete Carroll was a great coach and they had a great team in that era. Now, they’re a good team and they will come play hard and we will too. They’re not a team we can’t beat.”
Richardson has actually beaten USC in two ways. Not only is he 2-1 against the Trojans, but he’s proven to be more than capable of being a starter in this league.
Richardson has played in 40 games in his career and has made 28 starts. He finished last season with 58 tackles and an interception.
This season, the corner is trying to take his game to another level.
Through four games, Richardson has 19 tackles — three for loss — and an interception.
“He’s getting better at being more confident,” cornerbacks coach David Lockwood said. “If something happens, he’s not dragging his head; he’s playing for the next play. You have to be like that as a defensive back and he’s trying to make that happen.”
Richardson’s confidence couldn’t have been high after his junior season. He was a part of a secondary that allowed 292.8 passing yards per game and 25 touchdowns through the air.
Teams aggressively went after Richardson and fellow cornerback Jonathan
McKnight often — and they were typically rewarded.
As a result, Richardson spent his summer determined to improve. Rather than focusing on one part of his game that needed cleaning up, he went for a full-on overhaul. He worked out at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles with his cousin, Colorado receiver Paul Richardson, and other Pac-12 and NFL cornerbacks and receivers.
Richardson wanted to spend a good chunk of his offseason there because he became a father for the first time. His daughter, Samantha, was born in Los Angeles during the summer.
“I competed a lot during this offseason,” he said. “I was at home waiting for my baby to come, so I was there on the field and there was a lot of great talent out there. We’d get together and it’d be a lot of fun.”
Richardson also spent part of the summer in Phoenix working with Will Sullivan, who runs a camp for cornerbacks called “Shutdown U.”
The work was needed, Lockwood said.
“His work ethic is getting better,” Lockwood said. “The things we’ve been talking about week-in and week-out, he has to do a better job on Tuesday and Wednesday preparing himself to play and he’s trying to get better at that.
“The better you play during the week, the better you’ll play on the weekend.”
This game is not on a weekend, but Richardson wants to play really well in it.
“I’m glad it’s a big game; you get to make plays on a big stage,” he said. “You can tell it’s big because of the competition for tickets. Everybody wants their whole family to come and see them play. It’s like playing at home when you don’t normally see your friends and family at the game.
“You want to perform for them.”