When Alabama running back Trent Richardson heard his name called as one of the Heisman Trophy finalists Monday night, one of the first people he talked with was former teammate Mark Ingram, the 2009 Heisman winner. Richardson was now, finally, among the elite in college football and he needed some help in keeping it all in perspective.
"I talked to him really just to make sure my head is focused in this situation," Richardson said this week about talking to the Saints running back. "He said, win or lose, I've done the most that I can do. He said if you win or lose, just go out and ball-out your last game like you've never played before."
Richardson is among five finalists for the most prestigious award in college football, which will be presented tonight in New York City. Joining him are Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, Wisconsin running back Montee Ball and LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu.
When the football season began four months ago, Luck, the 2010 Heisman runnerup, was considered the favorite. Now many believe the race is too close to call.
"It was a great experience last year and to be able to go back, I feel very lucky," Luck said. "I'm very excited to hang out with all the guys. The Heisman Trust does a terrific job of making it a great experience for all of us, and I'm looking forward to it."
If early predictions are correct, Luck may once again find himself running second. Heismanpundit.com, a website that has correctly picked the winner since 2007, and Stiffarmtrophy.com have both predicted that Griffin will take home Baylor's first Heisman Trophy. When the junior talks about the honor, he uses the word "we" because he said it will be a great accomplishment for himself and the school.
"It's amazing," Griffin said. "Going to New York as the favorite to win the Heisman, it's indescribable, there's not a word that you can fathom that can describe what this experience is going to be like. We might win it, we might not win it. The fact of the matter is that it's an honor to even be there. Of course we do want to win it, but I mean I'm just elated and excited to be there."
Ball feels the same way. For a player who just last season was buried on the depth chart and considered moving to linebacker or transferring because he wasn't sure he could get on the field as a running back, to be considered among the nation's best players is nearly overwhelming.
"If you had told me at the beginning of the season that I would have over 1,600 yards and 38 touchdowns, I would not have believed you," Ball said. "And being invited to … New York? I would not have believed you at all."
Lately, Richardson has allowed himself to believe it. He has imagined seeing his Heisman statue in the school's trophy case next to Ingram's. He expects his emotions to be running high as the announcement nears tonight.
"The other day I was YouTube-ing the Heisman last year and the year before that, (watching) Ingram's speech," Richardson said. "Just all the emotions in that room when the guy says: 'And the winner is.' That's something I'm looking forward to."
"I'm going to enjoy this experience," said Mathieu, a sophomore who plans to return to LSU next season. "Hopefully it won't be my last time being a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.