By Jeff Nations -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK -- Massanutten Military Academy rising senior Jamauri Richardson's crash course in football began in earnest last season.
Prior to his junior season and first at MMA, Richardson had rarely stepped onto a football field during game action. That all changed last year, as Richardson won the starting free safety spot for the Colonels and also saw extensive time at wide receiver.
It was a tough go for a time, admits the native of St. David's, Bermuda.
"Last year was my first full season ever playing football," Richardson said. "It was rough. I just did my best to try and pick it up."
MMA coach Chris Gilliland was thrilled when the 6-foot-4, 201-pound Richardson joined the program -- rough edges and all.
"When he first came to Massanutten, and everybody will pretty much agree with me on this, he was a little rough around the edges," Gilliland said. "He's come a long away. He's still got some room to grow and some room to mature, and we all know that, but during the offseason something clicked. I don't know what it was, but something clicked."
The clicking actually started during his junior season, as Richardson began to understand more game situations. It helped playing free safety, where Richardson had the opportunity to watch plays develop and then react. Not surprisingly, it was on the defensive side where Richardson felt the most comfortable.
"I just did what I was told," Richardson said. "I started to understand it toward the end. It was hard for me to think for myself because I didn't really understand why. It was just like, 'Stay 12 yards back and just protect the pass.' That's all I knew to do. Now I understand the concepts. It was more of a natural reaction last year, me playing defensive back, because I didn't know all the techniques that I know now."
Serving as MMA's ultimate safety net in the secondary gave Richardson the time he needed to read the play and get there in time to make an impact.
"I can watch and I can see what's going on," Richardson said. "That's what I meant when I said that I could understand, from playing in the secondary and playing safety, it makes it a lot easier because I can see."
By the end of last season, Richardson was showing what he could do on the defensive side. In the season finale, a 55-0 win over the Virginia Lions, he had four tackles and two pass breakups.
Offensively, Richardson's modest receiving totals last year belie the potential matchup headache he can cause for opposing secondaries. With now-graduated Cameron Williams gobbling up most of the receptions, Richardson began to focus more on the defensive side last year.
"Last year I figured I would just focus on defense because I wasn't doing too good on offense," Richardson said. "I kind of gave up on it. I know that wasn't the right mindset, and it's what I've been trying to work at. This year, all offseason -- all preseason, all summer -- I've been working on routes and fitness and catching the ball. I've gone to a few camps and combines to try and get up to speed."
Richardson's athleticism and 4.6 speed in the 40-yard dash was a revelation on the combine circuit over the summer, culminating in an invitation to the NUC Ultimate 100 camp in Oklahoma.
"I was completely surprised," Richardson said. "I didn't think I did that good, but I guess I impressed people I didn't expect to."
Richardson aims to keep impressing, and that includes on the offensive side of the ball this season.