She’ll be taken care of for life, now.
Her son Trent Richardson made sure of it Thursday afternoon when Alabama’s leading running back and Heisman Trophy finalist announced he’d leave school early to enter the NFL draft. Fellow junior Dre Kirkpatrick, a cornerback, and linebacker Dont’a Hightower came to the same conclusion while safety Robert Lester will return for a final Crimson Tide season.
For Richardson, a projected top-10 pick, the decision came down to helping his family that includes two young daughters. He wants to be somewhere he can see his kids every day and to pay back his mother who’s fighting lupus.
“I know it’s been hard for my momma to be my momma and my daddy at the same time,” Richardson said. “When it came down to it, it took a toll on me to make sure my momma didn’t have to work no more. I’m pretty sure my grandmomma will still work. She unretired and went back to driving a city bus again.”
Though Richardson’s decision was long expected, he said the final call didn’t come until Wednesday night.
“This place changed my life,” Richardson said. “It turned me into a man. … I never thought I’d be in college playing football. In three years, or two and a half years, I almost have my college degree. That’s big for me, man. As a young man, my brother left home and went to school and I always said I wanted to be just like him.”
He hopes to finish the few classes needed for a degree this spring by taking online courses.
Kirkpatrick, also a member of the 2009 recruiting class, is close to getting his degree as well.
Deciding to leave Tuscaloosa was a decision he wrestled with for quite a while, he said.
“There’s probably going to be some weeping going on later,” Kirkpatrick said at Thursday’s news conference. “Like Trent said, it’s a sad time and it’s a happy time.”
He too cited family when explaining the difficulty of leaving Saban behind.
“I call him my father because, on the field and at the University of Alabama, he is my father,” Kirkpatrick said. “The University of Alabama is really a place I never imagined being here. It’s just a blessing to have them open their doors the way they did to me.”
Neither player met any resistance from Saban when making the decision since both are projected to go early in the first round of April’s draft.
“We are 100 percent supportive of both of these young men in terms of what their choice is and what they choose to do,” Saban said.
Hightower did not participate in the news conference, but his departure was not much of a secret. He was introduced during senior day activities at the last home game and he’s expressed a desire to play in the Senior Bowl next month.
The team’s leading tackler had 85 stops, but was technically a junior this season after receiving a medical redshirt in 2009.
The work is just beginning for the three departing juniors. Individual training should begin soon as they angle towards the NFL pro scouting combine Alabama’s pro day.
“I can’t wait to get to the combine because a lot of people don’t think I have blazing speed or they think I’m slow,” Richardson said. “They don’t think I have good enough hands, so when I get there, I want to make sure to showcase all the talent and all the good God has put in my life.”
Richardson finished his Alabama career with 3,130 rushing yards — 34 of which came on the last touchdown run of the 21-0 beating of LSU in Monday’s BCS title game. He won the Doak Walker Award and was a consensus All-American while setting school and SEC records with 24 total touchdowns this fall.
Kirkpatrick’s draft stock rose even without making an interception this fall. The 6-foot-3, long-armed cornerback has the prototypical size and added a hard-hitting edge to his game this season. He’s also done a lot of maturing.
“It’s just slowing yourself down and not trying to be out in the night scene,” Kirkpatrick said helped. “Just going to the house, sitting back, relaxing with the fellas and playing video games, you know, just some of the things college kids like to do.”
He can still do all that now, just as a professional football player.
Michael Casagrande covers University of Alabama sports for The Star. Follow him on Twitter @UARollTide_Star