By Travis M. Smith | KBEC Sports
The entire country had the privilege to see on Friday what Waxahachie had learned long ago: Demani Richardson is really, really good at football.
And it took just a few minutes of game time in the Texas Bowl for the Texas A&M freshman to make his presence known. The 2019 Waxahachie graduate read a Dru Brown swing pass to Dillon Stoner in the right flat to perfection and dropped the Oklahoma State wide receiver for a 5-yard loss.
The tackle by Richardson in space came after TAMU quarterback Kellen Mond fumbled the Aggies’ second snap from scrimmage and on the first offensive play for Oklahoma State. The loss of yardage ultimately pushed the Cowboys out of field goal range.
Of course, it also set the tone for the young Aggie defense.
Texas A&M University eventually went on to defeat No. 25 OSU, 24-21, to capture the bowl-game victory at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Richardson entered the bowl game third on the team in tackles with 63, trailing only upperclassmen Buddy Johnson (71) and Anthony Hines III (70).
He then led the Aggies with eight total tackles and a season-high two tackles-for-loss on Friday, which ran his season total to 71 total tackles (38 solos). It marked the team-best fourth time for Richardson to record eight-or-more tackles this season.
Richardson also previously led the TAMU defense in total tackles against Clemson (8), Alabama (11), Mississippi State (7) and Georgia (8). He recorded his first career interception against Alabama and forced a fumble against Mississippi State.
Richardson and the Aggies ultimately finished the season 8-5 overall with the Texas Bowl victory, which included a 4-4 record in the SEC West and three losses to teams that, at the time, were ranked No. 1 in the country (Clemson, Alabama and LSU).
Of course, the Aggies also fell to then-No. 8 Auburn and No. 4 Georgia before beating top-25 Oklahoma State in Houston. All five of A&M’s losses were against programs ranked in the top-25.
But there was a youth movement this season in College Station that will undoubtedly bode well for the Aggies as they look toward 2020.
During the Texas Bowl, Richardson was one of four underclassmen listed at the safety position on the official two-deep. Fellow starting safety Leon O’Neal (sophomore, Cypress, TX) joined Richardson as a starter, while Keldrick Carper (junior, Plain Dealing, LA) and Brian Williams (freshman, Dallas) were listed as backups.
The youth in the secondary was not limited to the safety position, either, as none of the four cornerbacks listed ahead of Friday’s game were seniors.
In fact, the Aggies did not list a single senior on their defensive two-deep against Oklahoma State. Richardson is also one of 19 true freshmen who have seen the field this season for the Aggies.
Sports Illustrated had even previously named tight end Jalen Wydermyer and Richardson to its All-American team.
Richardson, Wydermyer, Green and running back Isaiah Spiller were also selected to the SEC All-Freshman Team.
The Jimbo Fisher-led Texas A&M football program is young, and its defensive unit has undoubtedly laid the groundwork to become something great in the very near future — a unit that will be led by Richardson.
Following Friday’s win, Fisher acknowledged as much, noting to the media during his postgame press conference playing safety is “a very complicated position to play with the physicality, can tackle and run and cover. [Richardson] made some great plays and has a chance to be a tremendous player if he keeps improving.”
With praise already beginning to shower, it’s rather easy to see that Richardson could soon be the face of a resurgent Wrecking Crew — as early as his sophomore campaign. He’s certainly proved himself capable since arriving in College Station this past summer, though Waxahachie faithful have laid witness his potential long before then.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith