Giving Back

Published 2:56 pm Monday, June 30, 2008

NATCHEZ — When people think back to what Michael Richardson did on the football field at Cathedral in the mid-1980s, they aren’t surprised to know that he went on to a successful career at Louisiana Tech and then professionally in the Canadian Football League.

Those who know the kind of person he was off the field — a good student who helped out with youth basketball camps — also aren’t surprised to find out his current profession — a social worker dealing with underprivileged youth in his adopted city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“I’m a program coordinator for the (Canadian) government,” Richardson said. “I work with kids that have been apprehended by the welfare system. When they are apprehended from their families, they come to our program and learn life skills and work experience. We teach kids how to live.”

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Richardson was an All-State running back in 1986 as a senior at Cathedral, rushing for 1,442 yards and 24 touchdowns. In his career, he rushed for over 3,500 yards and scored 60 touchdowns for the Green Wave.

“He was probably the best running back to come through Cathedral,” former Green Wave coach Ken Beesley said. “He didn’t have blazing speed but he was very mobile. You’d go to tackle him and he’d make you miss.”

He was also versatile, and was a threat catching the ball out of the backfield.

“Probably our No. 1 play back then was a screen pass to him. I remember him catching screen passes and going 60 and 70 yards for the score. Anytime he touched the ball, he was a threat to score.”

Cathedral assistant football coach Henry Harris also remembers Richardson as doing whatever it took to help the team.

“Whatever it took to make the team win, he’d do it,” Harris said. “He’d get in the line and block for somebody. If all the linemen were hurting, we’d put him in the line and he’d block. He was just that kind of kid.”

Richardson’s talent and unselfishness led to a good career at Louisiana Tech, which was capped off with a Most Valuable Player award in the 1990 Independence Bowl, a game in which Louisiana Tech played Maryland to a 34-34 tie.

After spending training camp in 1991 with the New York Giants, Richardson signed a contract with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League.

Despite not playing until almost midway through the 1992 season, Richardson led the league in rushing with 1,153 yards and was named the CFL’s Rookie of the Year.

“I was on the practice roster for seven weeks after coming into the league,” Richardson said. “I wasn’t even expected to play. The guy in front of me had rushed for 1,500 yards the year before. But I was able to crack the lineup and ended up being their guy.”

Richardson’s most famous game was the 1992 Eastern Conference Finals against the Hamilton Tiger Cats.

Playing on a field that was covered by a sheet of ice in sub-zero temperatures, Richardson rushed for 227 yards and three touchdowns in Winnipeg’s 59-11 win that sent them to the Grey Cup, the CFL’s version of the Super Bowl.

“I remember that game like it was yesterday,” Richardson said. “It was freezing out there but I didn’t feel the weather. It was like I was in slow motion.”

Richardson said an assist from Winnipeg quarterback and fellow Louisiana Tech alum Matt Dunigan allowed him to have one of the best playoff performances in CFL history.

“There was a skim of ice on the field and everyone was slipping all over the place,” Richardson said. “Matt Dunigan was wearing these baseball cleats with plastic bottoms. He said ‘I’ve got an extra pair if you want them. If you wear them you can’t go wrong.’ And he was right. The CFL banned those shoes after that game,” Richardson said with a laugh.

Even though the Bombers lost the 1992 Grey Cup to the Calgary Stampeders, Richardson came back strong in 1993, winning another rushing title after rushing for 925 yards. Winnipeg once again made it to the Grey Cup, but once again lost, this time to the Edmonton Eskimos.

Richardson signed with the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1994 and spent two years with that team before returning to Winnipeg to finish his career with the Blue Bombers, retiring after the 1997 season.

Richardson stayed in Winnipeg following his playing career and has grown to love the city and its people.

“I got married here and had two kids. That’s what kept me around,” Richardson said. “The community is a warm community. They love the Bombers. The city is about 700,000 people and they treat you well. Canada is such a great place. There are a lot of good people up here.”

In fact, the only negative Richardson could come up with was the bitterly cold winters, which is something he wasn’t used to growing up in Southwest Mississippi.

“It gets damn cold up here,” he said with a laugh. “You wouldn’t believe how many times I thought about coming home just because it’s so cold.”

Richardson has been doing social work for the past eight years, a profession he said suits him well.

“It’s a natural fit for me,” he said. “When I was at Cathedral, I hooked up with Dan Richey and helped him with the youth basketball association in Ferriday. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing.”

And it’s something that Beesley isn’t surprised to see his former player excel at.

“I can see him working with young people and trying to help them out,” Beesley said. “Part of our Catholic tradition and background is to do a lot of service work.”

Even though Richardson hasn’t lived in Natchez since making the move up to Canada, where he has a son, Jalen 13, and daughter, Mia, 11, he still has fond memories of his days at Cathedral and considers Natchez home.

“People always thought I was one of the hardest-working guys at camps,” Richardson said. “That started at Cathedral. I developed a great attitude there, both on and off the field. Natchez is still home to me.”