By Isaac Hunt
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
If Sam Richardson keeps at his current pace, by the end of the year the quarterback could hold several of the single season passing records at Iowa State. But just 10 months ago the Winter Park, Fla., native wasn’t even sure he would ever see the field again.
After being named the starter in 2013, Richardson and his offense couldn’t get comfortable. With several nagging injuries hindering his performance, he eventually found himself on the sidelines watching a teammate lead the Cyclones to a pair victories to end the season.
Losing a starting spot in the Big 12 is rarely looked at as a good thing, but it may have been what saved Richardson’s career.
“It was a tough year,” Richardson said. “Game after game we missed opportunities and it was the same story over and over again. Getting benched and having to sit out the rest of the year was frustrating, but it was a great learning experience for me. It made me appreciate the starting spot. It gave me a new drive as a player. It really sparked me going into this year the way that I did.”
When spring practice started and head coach Paul Rhoads announced there would be a quarterback competition, Richardson saw a chance, though he thought it was small. Sam would be challenging redshirt sophomore Grant Rohach for an opportunity to run the offense once more.
The challenge would be difficult, however, as Rohach was taking the majority of the snaps with the starters.
“Throughout spring ball I was kind of the back runner,” Richardson said.
Richardson, if anything, is a competitor, and even though he thought he might end up on the sidelines again, he wasn’t going to stop competing. He treats every snap with the same amount of enthusiasm and it doesn’t go unnoticed.
“I think the biggest thing is that he competed,” said quarterbacks coach Todd Sturdy. “We had a quarterback competition, but there’s always a competition. Even if you’re the guy, you still have to go play well. I really liked how he competed from the beginning of spring all the way through fall camp. “
Competing, just like throwing the ball, is something that comes natural to Richardson. It’s been an apparent intangible Sam has possessed since high school.
D’Vario Montgomery has seen Richardson first hand throughout his career. Playing together in high school and now at Iowa State, Montgomery places him among the best quarterbacks he’s played with.
“Of course I would rank him a 10,” Montgomery said. “There have been plenty of others that I have played with, but among all of them I think he, as far as competitive edge, is one of the top competitive people I have ever played with.
“Every rep is important to him. That’s something that a quarterback needs to have. Every snap, every throw they have to be important to them because it can turn into a game rep.”
That competitive edge is what eventually led to Richardson earning the starting job. Consistency in every snap and treating every play with the same weight gave Richardson what he needed to be named Iowa State’s quarterback.
After the first scrimmage in fall camp Richardson said he knew the job was his to lose. He started to get a grip on what he could do with the offense and it came together from there.
With the job won, it was now on Richardson to prove to the coaches and fans that the right decision was made, but early in the season after leading in two straight games Iowa State failed to score in the second half resulting in an 0-2 start.
“In the beginning we got comfortable getting out to leads in our first two games against North Dakota State and Kansas State,” Richardson said. “We just got comfortable and I think we learned valuable lessons from that. Now we look at any opportunity we have the ball we’ve got to score points. That’s a big difference.”
In those first few games there were many injuries to the receiving corps and the offense was still figuring out the new system, but that feels like ages ago now. Richardson and the Cyclone offense are coming into their own.
“He’s extremely intelligent,” Sturdy said. “He understands our system and he’s able to use our offense because he understands it so well. He’s got a lot of the things you look for, but at the end of the day he is a quality person, a leader, he’s very competitive, very tough, and he’s very driven.
“There’s still a high ceiling for Sam, the bar is set pretty high for him and I think each and every week he gets to play he gets better.”
There isn’t much doubt at Iowa State about whether the success this quarterback and his team has found can carry though the season and into next year.
“We are going to be able to open up and throw the ball here and there and we are going to have more threats on the outside,” Montgomery said. “We have a lot of threats out there. It’ll come together.”
Even though Richardson may be closing in on records with this new offense, he will be the first one to tell you his individual success is only part of what the Cyclones have to offer and it doesn’t matter unless they can use him to win.
“There are 10 other guys doing their job to get that thing done,” Richardson said. “It’s never a me thing, I’m never looking at what I’m going to do this season. It’s more about when we are going to get the wins and sending the seniors out the way that they should be sent out.”