Ex-Gopher still has NFL hopes

by David La

Former Gophers football standout Antoine Richard got a firsthand look at the perils of playing semi-professional football last weekend.
Richard plays defensive tackle for the St. Paul Pigs of the Mid-America Football League. He was on his way to Sioux City, Iowa, for a game with the Duluth Lumberjacks of the Indoor Football League, a team Richard has also been playing with temporarily.
“They told us going to Sioux City would take four hours tops,” Richard said of the directions given him. “Me and (former Gopher and current teammate) Crawford Jordan went all the way out to Des Moines, and someone there told us it was going to be another three hours before we get to Sioux City. We turned around and went home.”
While Richard was the unknowing victim of bad directions, he has no such problems in figuring out the direction he wants his football career to go. Trouble is, no one in the National Football League will meet him half way.
“I have an agent and we’re just calling people,” Richard, a two-time All-Big Ten selection, said. “Everyone says their roster is full, so I’m basically just hoping and waiting. (Vikings head coach) Denny Green probably knows me by first name, we call him so much. But no workouts.”
So for now, Richard remains a member of the Pigs squad, which, on the strength of an Aug. 21 win over the Sioux Falls Falcons, was named Northern Lights Conference champions.
“Finally I’m winning,” Richard said, “and I got a lot to do with it.”
Indeed, Richard is anchoring the defensive line for the Pigs, a team that features numerous Gophers on its roster. The Pigs are 5-0 going into Saturday’s game with the Minneapolis Lumberjacks. While Richard says he’s “playing for fun”, he nevertheless takes his job seriously.
“I felt like I should be able to go out there and dominate everyone, to be honest with you,” Richard said of his thoughts going into this season, his first with the team. “For the most part, that’s what I’m doing.”
But no matter how many tackles, sacks or wins he racks up, Richard is still focused on getting his shot at the next level.
Richard’s former position-coach at Minnesota, Gordon Shaw, thinks Richard is more than worthy of a workout by a NFL team looking for a defensive tackle who’s sturdy versus the run.
“Lloyd Carr of Michigan told him after a game he thought (Richard) was the best defensive lineman in the conference,” Shaw said. “You talk to other (Big Ten) coaches, they’ll tell you they’re glad he’s graduated.
“He was an outstanding player; he really does deserve a look. I’ve coached eight or nine NFL defensive linemen and he’s as good as any of them.”
The thought of playing in the NFL is one that leaves Richard longing. He would very much like to play with his former Division I peers on fall Sundays.
“I’ve played against so many people that are in the NFL right now,” Richard said.
And that’s exactly what he would like his current Pigs teammates to say about him someday.

David La Vaque covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected].