Richardson gets leg up on punts Ravens: Rookie Kyle Richardson's command of game situations not only wins notice, but also secures him a spot on the final roster.

September 01, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

A week into his first training camp, after hundreds of punts, Kyle Richardson's left leg felt dead. And the battle to unseat veteran Greg Montgomery was just beginning.

As camp rolled on, Richardson recovered physically. As preseason games arrived, it became obvious that the upstart out of Arkansas State was not leaving this competition quietly.

Yesterday, the Ravens' new punter wore an expression drained of the tension evident in his face last weekend, which he spent wondering about his immediate fate in the NFL. By the time Sunday afternoon arrived, Richardson knew his locker at the Ravens' Owings Mills complex would remain intact.

"I had to sit on pins and needles, hope for the best and keep believing in myself," Richardson said. "I had no idea what they were going to do."

Richardson, who had impressed the Ravens since the team's June minicamp, made them believe in him with a stellar performance in the preseason finale against the New York Giants.

That night, Richardson punted four times, averaging 39.3 yards per attempt. But his command of each situation is what compelled the Ravens to keep him around. Early in the game, the Ravens had stalled in their own territory, and Richardson bailed them out of shaky field position by booming a 54-yarder.

For the rest of the evening, Richardson needed more touch while punting on a "shorter" field. He responded by dropping two punts inside the Giants' 20. The other barely bounced into the end zone for a touchback, his only touchback in August.

In all, Richardson punted 10 times in four preseason games, with five punts covered inside the 20. He averaged 41.6 yards.

"[Richardson] had been getting the ball off well, and his hang time was extremely good, but I was really impressed with the way he kicked against the Giants," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said. "He was under the gun. I felt if he could withstand that kind of pressure, he can withstand the pressure of the NFL."

Richardson's education about life in the NFL began in 1997, during which he accomplished a dubious hat trick by getting signed and cut three times.

Miami signed him as a free agent after the season opener, when veteran John Kidd pulled a hamstring. Richardson made his NFL debut by averaging 45.7 yards on three punts against Minnesota. The next day, the Dolphins gave him the boot, only to bring him back 10 days later when Kidd re-injured the hamstring. He punted in two more games, then hit the street again. He landed a month later in Seattle for two more games. Two of eight punts were blocked in that stretch.

"I learned a lot of things in those games. I learned a lot about preparing for games," Richardson said.

Richardson learned he had the stuff to challenge a veteran like Montgomery, a 10-year player who had two Pro Bowl appearances on his resume.

A test like that is not what Richardson envisioned during his senior year of high school in Farmington, Mo., just south of St. Louis. That year, he realized he might have a future in the kicking game. Richardson, the youngest of three brothers and the son of two teachers -- his mother is a retired physical education teacher, his father a retired principal of the high school and the middle school in Farmington -- became the punter at Arkansas State.

Despite being color blind, Richardson majored in graphic design. He also finished on ASU's all-time list with a four-year punting average of 39.8 yards.

Ravens special teams coach Scott O'Brien liked the tools he saw the first time he worked out Richardson this year. From minicamp on, the kid kept growing on him.

"You've got to have leg strength, tremendous foot speed, you need a sense of urgency in getting the ball off quickly, and you've got to be consistent," O'Brien said. "The longer [the battle with Montgomery] went on, the more the pressure intensified, and it was better for evaluation purposes. We made the right choice."

"The mental side of this was the most challenging thing," said Richardson, 25, who went through his first training camp to land here. "I prepared myself. I knew I had six weeks [to win a job]. I was totally focused. I neglected a lot of friends by not talking to them, and I apologize for that."

Richardson, who is under contract here through 1999, could be the most popular person in Farmington today. His parents still live there. His father sells sporting goods and plays lots of golf. His mother works with the caravan that welcomes visitors to town.

"We're not exactly strangers there," he said.

Richardson hopes his stay in Baltimore yields similar results.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Pittsburgh Steelers (season opener)

Site: Ravens stadium

When: 1: 01 p.m. Sunday

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Steelers by 3

Tickets: Sold out

Coming Friday: Special section that looks at Ravens' new offense and rest of the NFL.

Pub Date: 9/01/98

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