Missed Opportunity Fuels Wyoming’s LJ Richardson
LARAMIE -- LJ Richardson is the fastest player on the team.
Wide receiver Caleb Merritt said that. So did safety Andrew Johnson. You can take their word for it, or you can simply look at the speed charts the Wyoming strength and conditioning coaches keep.
You almost got a firsthand look at that speed. A canceled flight, however, put that on hold.
Just days before the Arizona Bowl, Richardson, along with his fellow teammates from Nebraska, received some bad news when they stepped up to the kiosk inside the Omaha airport.
No flights in or out.
Weather initially backed up all air traffic. Southwest's antiquated crew-scheduling system failing, though, was the ultimate culprit.
That airline snafu caused Wyoming's 6-foot-1, 215-pound freshman running back to miss a pair of practices in Tucson. Despite the MASH unit in the Cowboys' backfield, he wasn't part of the postseason plans any longer.
"I feel like that's probably what kept me from seeing the field," Richardson said last April. "I think they wanted me to see the practices to make sure I'm good, you know, being a freshman."
Craig Bohl instead named Jordon Vaughn the starter. Wyoming's head coach even moved linebacker Sam Scott into the mix with DQ James and Dawaiian McNeely on the shelf due to injury.
Leading rusher Titus Swen was also dismissed from the team after the regular season finale for violating team rules.
It was a tough pill to swallow for the former Bellevue West star.
"Yeah, I was pretty bummed, pretty sad -- a little angry," Richardson admitted. "I was also sad for the team. I felt bad because, you know, we lost. But I had to shake it off and go prove myself this spring."
A severe hamstring limited Richardson through camp, but his teammates already have a good idea of the skills he possesses.
"He is fast," said Johnson, drawing out that last word to emphasize that speed. "I've yet to be on the field when he breaks one open, but the day he does, it's going to be a race. And I pride myself on having speed, too. He's going to be really solid. As you know, he's still young. He can still develop.
"He's going to impact this team in coming years. He's so strong and fast. He's also a big back. What else can you ask for?"
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Bohl announced his first depth chart of the 2023 campaign two weeks ago at the Mountain West's annual media days in Las Vegas. Richardson's name, for now, isn't on it. Incoming Northern Illinois transfer Harrison Waylee is expected to miss "a couple weeks" to begin the season. He underwent offseason knee surgery. McNeely is listed as the starter. James, who suffered a torn ACL late in the 2022 season, is No. 2.
Where is Richardson in that pecking order? He doesn't seem to care much. Like his previous travel troubles, that's out of his control. He said he's simply sticking to the script.
"To me, I just think practicing hard," he said when asked how he can get on the field this fall. "I mean, showing them that, you know, I'm still here. The faith that you had when you recruited me -- I'm still here. I need to show the coaches that I can be as good as Dawaiian or Harrison, even though I'm a youngling."
Richardson rushed for an eye-popping 2,180 yards during his senior season. He added 35 touchdowns. Both of those numbers led Class A, the highest classification in Nebraska.
Recruiters from Iowa State and Nebraska came calling. Northern Illinois wanted him, too.
He said pass protection is an area where he needs to improve. Same goes for pad level. Richardson is still consuming the Cowboys' pro-style system. He's not about to put the cart before the horse. But that doesn't mean he doesn't daydream about the day his number is finally called.
"Every night," he said. "Man, it will be cool, you know, packed stadium, calling my name on the intercom, stuff like that. It's going to be ... yeah, I dream about it every day. I can't wait."
University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players
- University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players