By Mark Newman
The last time Trent Richardson ran the football for a team in the state of Alabama, it worked out pretty well for everyone involved.
He finished third in the 2011 Heisman Trophy voting, rushing for more than 100 yards in six straight games and leading the Crimson Tide to their third national championship in a four-year span. He was compared to Earl Campbell among other legends, and was considered a can’t-miss running back when the Cleveland Browns drafted him No. 3 overall in 2012 and gave him a guaranteed four-year, $20.4 million contract.
For Richardson, at least, what happened after that is all well-known and water under the bridge: four NFL teams and a stint in the Canadian Football League. But now comes The Alliance of American Football, with an opportunity to come back home and start anew. Richardson was signed by the Birmingham team, which will play its game in front of Bama fans galore at Legion Field, until a new stadium near Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex is ready, likely for 2021.
“Excited about this,” Richardson said to AL.com after signing. “Another opportunity for my professional career. Happy to be doing something that I really love doing, especially in Alabama and in Birmingham, which is a home away from home for me.”
If anywhere is a right match for Richardson in his bid to restore his good name among football fans, it is unquestionably with the Iron and at a field near Tuscaloosa.
Richardson rushed for 950 yards as an NFL rookie, but the Browns traded him to Indianapolis for a first-round pick the following year. The Colts waived him after the 2015 season. He immediately signed a two-year contract with the Raiders, but didn’t make their regular-season roster. Richardson joined the Ravens for the preseason in 2016, but that didn’t extend beyond the exhibition schedule. Richardson’s NFL stats stand at 2,032 yards on 614 career carries over 46 games. He spent one season with Saskatchewan of the CFL before he was granted his release on Aug. 15 so he could join The Alliance.
With Birmingham, Richardson will play for someone who can identify with being a high draft pick whose NFL career is shorter than expected. The team’s new coach, Tim Lewis, was the 11th player chosen overall out of the University of Pittsburgh by Green Bay in 1983. Lewis played four seasons before having his career halted after a head-to-head collision with Bears receiver Willie Gault.
The Alliance has a unique personnel acquisition system, and Richardson is precisely where both an organization and a player can benefit. Players are allocated to The Alliance based on their college footprint, and that includes the following schools: Alabama, Auburn, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Louisiana Tech, NC State, Maryland, Missouri, UAB, South Alabama, Troy, Alabama A&M, Alabama State, Jacksonville State, Samford, Miles College, North Alabama, Tuskegee and West Alabama. If a player’s college is outside The Alliance footprint, the selection process moves to phase 2 — based on their most recent NFL or CFL team.
“If the Birmingham team has Trent Richardson,” The Alliance co-founder Bill Polian told ESPN this summer, “we think that will be something that would be a significant gate attraction.”
Now that it has him on the roster, Richardson has a fresh start. He could become the face of the team and, as he put it, just “get back to (being) that guy that we know.”