Clifton Richardson crossed the goal line and didn’t stop until the Scott Stadium hill slowed him down beyond the north end zone.
He’s a football player making up for lost time. Why not get every inch out of every opportunity?
At 1 p.m., Saturday, Virginia will hold its annual spring game. It’ll be Richardson’s first true chance to tell Cavalier fans he’s back to full health.
It’s been a long nine months for the junior running back, a road that hit its first speed bump during a workout in late July.
“It was like two, three weeks before camp,” Richardson said. “We were just running routes and I ran a vertical. It just popped.”
Cue a back-and-forth, season-long battle.
Richardson didn’t play in the opener against Richmond. He missed the Penn State game. His debut came at Georgia Tech on Sept. 15 and he went for all of one yard on one carry.
His 2012 statline became: seven games, 24 carries, 59 yards, no touchdowns. It was hardly the encore from a rookie campaign of 366 yards and two scores on 72 attempts in 13 games.
But it lacked 100 percent health.
“I kept trying to come back early,” Richardson said. “I tried to be a great competitor, coming back too fast. Sometimes you have to let that heal.”
The lack of patience wore on the former four-star recruit out of Menchville High School in Newport News.
“He’d get frustrated sometimes,” said fellow back Kevin Parks. “But I told him, ‘You got to get better. You got to stay in the training room to get better.’”
But Richardson wanted to be on the field.
“It was real tough,” Richardson said. “It was depressing. I wanted to be out there to help my team get some key victories.”
UVa went 4-8 and finished seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing.
With little contribution, it seemed like a wasted season for Richardson.
“I try not to think about that,” he said when asked if he would have wished for a redshirt. “My teammates, they kept my spirits up. They said, ‘Don’t worry about it. You’ll get them next year. Just keep working hard.’”
He took that motivation to the offseason when he cared for his injury and trimmed down.
“I feel like I improved a lot on everything,” Richardson said. “My hamstring’s good, my whole body’s good. I lost a lot of weight. I feel faster, more explosive.”
Richardson said he was in the 220-pound range and got to 209. Head coach Mike London said “he might have lost two pounds.”
Nonetheless, it was a transformation that has Richardson back in the deep running back room.
There’s Parks (734 yards, five touchdowns last season), Khalek Shepherd (122, one score), redshirt freshman Kye Morgan and incoming blue-chipper Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell.
“It’s been a process with him, getting himself in the type of shape that he needs to be,” London said of Richardson. “It’s still a work in progress, but he understands that he knows it’s going to be very competitive here as far as the tailback situation is concerned. There’s another player coming in that has some accomplishments.
“All those guys know that their best effort is what’s being evaluated every day.”
During last Saturday’s scrimmage, Parks was held out with a minor injury. Richardson and Shepherd shared first-team duties and each scored a pair of touchdowns.
The powerful, cutting nature to Richardson’s game flashed at times. But so did the not-quite-all-the-way-there element.
During one particular series, he took a Greyson Lambert handoff and dashed to a hole through the left side of the line. It was a second-and-9 play that had first down potential, but Richardson got tripped up and fell for a measly yard. He pounded the ground in frustration with his right hand.
“I feel like every situation you go through, you can grow from it,” Richardson said. “I’m just growing from it.”
And giving hope to his teammates.
“It’s weird,” said center Luke Bowanko, “because you look at him and you’re like, ‘Is that the guy making all those crazy cuts against Georgia Tech two years ago?’
“It’s great to have him back. A guy that’s a downhill runner like him that will run somebody over. Offensive linemen really appreciate it. It’s been great watching him run.”
Richardson’s just happy for the opportunity again.
He said Wahoo fans will soon get to judge the status of his full return.
“You’re going to find out this fall,” Richardson said. “It’s going to be a show. All the backs, we’re just ready to roll.”