By MIKE KAYS
A summer of adjustments has made former Muskogee Rougher Shjuan Richardson a more complete receiver — and square in the focus of Northeastern State’s defensive game plan.
Richardson, a senior at Emporia State, leads the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association in receiving and scoring. Through three games he has 28 catches for 452 yards and six touchdowns, all conference highs.
“It’s a little surprising,” he said when asked about it Wednesday.
Not so to his coaching staff, as they prepare for the 6 p.m. contest Saturday at NSU’s Doc Wadley Stadium.
“He’s played well since he’s been here and I’ve had him since he was a sophomore,” Emporia receivers coach Matt Martin said. “He’s always been a fast player; that’s never been an issue.”
But it was his final summer of workouts that helped the 2011 All-American to really turn the corner, Martin said.
“He never missed a workout, and a lot of his work was spent perfecting some of his other routes besides the deep route, which he’s a natural at because he’s so fast,” Martin said. “He worked on the slants, the underneath stuff and catching the ball close to the line of scrimmage then going and making a play after he had the ball in his hands. That is exactly why his numbers are where they’re at right now.”
Richardson had seven catches for 100 yards and three TDs, including a 43-yard strike, in a 42-14 win against Central Oklahoma. In a 58-35 win against Nebraska-Kearney, he had 15 grabs for 204 yards and another three TDs, including a 54-yarder. He had six receptions for 148 yards in the 41-18 win over Fort Hays State this past week. Dating back to last season, that’s five consecutive games of at least 100 yards receiving.
Richardson finished his senior season at Muskogee with with 49 catches for 692 yards. For Emporia State last season, he had 37 catches for 644 yards last season, fourth overall in the MIAA.
“I feel pretty good about my improvement,” he said. “I really wanted to focus attention on my routes and coming out of my cuts faster.”
The 5-foot-9, 172-pound Richardson’s workload is split between two sports at ESU — football and track, where he is an All-American sprinter. He was eighth in the conference last spring in the 100 (10.78 seconds) and part of the third-place 400 relay. He holds the fifth best time in Emporia State history in the 60-meter indoor event and finished fourth in conference.
“Being a two-sport athlete makes it hard for him to keep weight on and being strong enough to play at the next level,” Martin said. “But that’s the only thing that really stands in his way from making that possibility happen.”
NSU co-defensive coordinator Steve Patterson is saddled with stopping Richardson this week. His secondary is third overall in pass defense but 10th among MIAA teams in pass defense efficiency.
“John Brown at Pitt State is an All-American (and is third in the MIAA in receiving),” Patterson said. “He’s right up there along the top in what we’ve seen. In him, you’ve got the playmaking ability guy who can run.”
Brown had nine catches for 140 yards and two TDs in the 41-20 Pitt State win over the RiverHawks on Aug. 30. One missing member of the RiverHawks’ secondary will be another ex-Rougher, Kyler Harris, out after the discovery of a cyst on his knee. Richardson graduated before the first of Harris’ two years at MHS, Harris gaining a reputation as a standout cover man whose ACL injury his senior year cost him a shot at the Division I level.
“I wish we’d been able to play against each other,” Richardson said. “I’m just excited to be coming home to play. I was pumped when I saw we’d get them and at Tahlequah. I’ll have family there and I think some former coaches and guys I played with. I’m looking forward to it.”