Five days each week, Stanford safety Jordan Richards crosses the Dumbarton Bridge in the morning for pre-draft workouts in the East Bay. On his way back in the afternoon, he avoids the bridge and drives an extra 12 miles by looping south along the southern edge of the San Francisco Bay.
“I don’t want to pay the $5 bridge toll,” he said.
Richards still thinks like a college kid even though he’s likely to have an NFL job in a few months. And he was still very much in college mode in the run-up to this week’s scouting combine.
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While other prospects left school to train full time for the event – commonly referred to by draft prospects as the most important job interview of their lives – at pricey athletic academies in Southern California, Phoenix or South Florida, Richard trains while maintaining a full class schedule.
On some days, the former Folsom High School standout might bring his textbooks to the gym and pump out a few chapters between sessions. Juggling an egghead-meathead lifestyle, after all, is normal at Stanford.
“Time management is probably the biggest thing you learn being an athlete there,” said Zach Ertz, a former Stanford tight end who was drafted by the Eagles in the second round two years ago.
Ertz said that lesson is driven home to football players during summer school prior to their freshman year. They rise before the sun for a 7 a.m. run. Then they have classes. Then it’s back to the gym for 4 p.m. weight lifting.
“There’s not a lot of time to figure everything out,” Ertz recalled. “And that was the worst GPA that I had during my Stanford career. It’s a big jump academically. In high school, you were one of the smartest kids. And at Stanford, you’re pretty much the dumbest kid. No one cares if you play football, soccer, basketball. These people are starting Fortune 500 companies and winning Nobel Prizes. For them, we’re just normal people.”
The maturity it takes to ace a chemistry exam one day and a bench-press test the next should be an asset for the NFL. But for evaluators probing for weaknesses before spending a valuable draft pick, it also raises a red flag. After all, if a player is balancing academics and athletics in the run-up to the draft, are they dedicated enough for life in the NFL?
“Some people do think that, which kind of irritates me,” said Stanford defensive lineman Henry Anderson. “Because I put everything into football. I did go to Stanford partly because of the academics, but football is kind of the main focus, especially for anyone trying to play in the National Football League. You’re putting all your eggs in the NFL’s basket.”
Richards said he picked up on the same theme during the East-West Shrine all-star game last month.
He said teams’ top question about him is his speed, something he hopes to answer when he and the other defensive backs run the 40-yard dash here on Monday. Another question they have: How much does he love the game?
“I think it’s the idea that being at Stanford gives you a lot of opportunities post-graduation,” Richards said. “From what I can tell, they have a concern that when the going gets tough playing football, you would just quit and leave.”
Quit? Richards is a smart guy, but those who have worked with him insist he doesn’t know the meaning of that word.
His father, Terrence, coaches the freshman football team at Folsom, which speaks to the importance of football in his family. Richards was a captain on the 2010 team that won a CIF Division II state title. He played safety and running back, never leaving the field.
“With Jordan, we’ve never had a guy that was a tougher competitor,” the school’s coach, Troy Taylor, said. “The bigger the game, the tougher he is.”
At Stanford, Richards played in every game during the last four years and was a starter the last three. Secondary coach Duane Akina said that by his senior season Richards could play both safety positions, the nickel and dime defensive back spots and even was the team’s “disaster” cornerback.
“If we were on the road and had injuries (at cornerback), we could plug him in there,” Akina said.
By his sophomore season, in fact, Richards had such a thorough understanding of the playbook that he got the nickname, “Coach Richards.”
“Because he was so mature and did everything right on and off the field,” Ertz said. “If you had a question, it was, ‘Just ask Coach Richards.’ I think that speaks volumes to the respect people have for him in the program.”
Richards has one more class to take in the spring to get his degree in public policy. But he’d rather teams consider him a double major.
“This opportunity comes only once,” Richards said of the NFL. “There’s nothing in my heart that says, ‘Eh, I don’t really care.’ I love this game. I’m all in, 100 percent.”
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.