For years the Valley Huskers have watched premium local talent flee to other teams, but finally the tide may be turning.
Husker head coach Bob Reist has landed a potential game changer at running back with the commitment of Von Richardson.
Richardson will graduate from GW Graham in June and join the junior football Huskers for the 2018 B.C. Football Conference season.
“Von is a rare talent and an outstanding young man,” Reist said. “He’s an extremely gifted and versatile athlete, a powerful back that possesses great agility and reads his blocks well.
“He can beat you with power or with finesse and speed, and he will be a great addition to our backfield.”
Reist saw firsthand how devastating Richardson can be at the high school level. The teenager played linebacker on defence and was good enough to be named the Defensive Player of the Year at the AA level. On offence, he put up what Reist calls ‘silly numbers.’
The workhorse back carried 195 times for 1591 yards (8.2 yards per carry). He added 25 touchdowns, 23 rushing and two receiving, eye-popping numbers that would have any next-level team interested in his services.
So why has Richardson opted to stay home and play for a team that has… struggled… in recent years?
“I want a break from school and all the academic work, and I want to play a level of football that’s maybe not quite as serious as the university level,” Richardson said. “Coach (Reist) helped a lot with our (GWG) program this year and he definitely knows what he’s talking about.
“He’s also showed me that he cares a lot about his players and getting them ready for the next level.”
Richardson would have been a lock to find a U-Sports spot somewhere if he wanted it.
He had fleeting contact with the St. Mary’s Huskies in Halifax and planned to visit the University of Regina Rams.
But in the end, he just didn’t want to go anywhere.
“At first I thought I wanted to do that, but when I took a few days to think about it I figured this (Huskers) was the best option for me,” Richardson said. “I’ll probably play for the Huskers for a couple years and if a university comes to me with a good offer after that I’ll definitely think about taking it.
“I’ll continue following the football path as long as there are options there for me.”
During Richardson’s time at GWG, the Husker rep within the Grizzly locker room hasn’t been a good one, despite having coaches (Adam Smith/Luke Acheson/Jason Campbell) with close ties to both programs.
“It’s always been like, ‘I’ll never play for the Huskers’ and I used to say that too,” Richardson said. “But Coach Reist came around and changed my mindset on that.
Rugby is another part of the Richardson equation, or it was until he went on an Irish tour with a Rugby Canada team in December.
It wasn’t a great experience for Richardson and it seems to have soured him on playing high level rugby.
“I like watching rugby and playing rugby for fun, but I’ve lost the drive to play it at that level,” he explained.
Richardson seems aware that sports aren’t forever and seems focused on crafting a plan for when his playing days are done. He wants to be either a firefighter or teacher, and he wants to stay in the Fraser Valley.
He is uncommonly resolute for a kid his age.
“I grew up in California in a place called Manteca, which is exactly without Chilliwack except there’s no mountains and it’s really dry all the time,” he said. “There’s so much to do around here and I’d love to stay in Chilliwack or maybe Abbotsford.”
As good as Richardson is, it’s not a slam dunk that he will change the face of the Husker offence.
Not without some help.
The team has been notoriously bad running the ball in recent years despite having decent talent in the backfield.
Robert Bateman grad Keegan Vicklund led the team in rushing as a rookie in 2017, with a meagre 209 yards on 86 carries.
As a team, the Huskers rolled up 451 yards in 10 games. Other teams in the league have been known to eclipse that number in two games.
Reist is aware that even Richardson can’t create a running game on his own.
While he runs hard and collects extra yards after contact, he’s at his best running through or around a linebacker in the open field.
“We are adding pieces up front that we expect to improve our offensive line,” Reist said. “The young guys we had in last year are working hard to improve on where they left off and I expect our line play to improve and give our offensive weapons time to operate.
“Von is a big piece of that puzzle moving forward.”