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December 12, 2008

Richardson decision will go down to the wire

MORE: The 2009 Rivals100 | The Rivals100: A new No. 1 | The next class: 250 to Watch 2010

ATLANTA − Alabama running backs Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram were filling up Trent Richardson's television screen during the SEC Championship Game. Coffee slugged his way up the middle for 13 yards. Ingram slashed over right guard for 9 yards, then toughed out 2 more yards. On the next possession the heavier Coffee ran for 10 yards up the middle.

Coffee is a junior. Ingram is a freshman. Richardson is rated the No. 2 high school running back in the country out of Escambia High School in Pensacola, Fla.

Maybe that's a reason for Richardson to avoid going to Alabama? When is he going to touch the ball if Coffee and Ingram are still in the Alabama backfield in 2009?

"I can still go there, no problem, fewer reps is OK. I won't get beat up the entire game," Richardson said. "Imagine me and Coffee and Mark Ingram in the same backfield.

"I like to get the ball, but there are some other things that are important. What am I going to study when I am there and what does the offensive line look like?"

Richardson is 225 pounds and has the look of a power back, but he said he has run the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds, which is why he is so coveted by the major programs. He is not only stout enough to run downhill inside, but he's also fast enough to run away from defensive backs if he gets to the second level of the defense or if he gets to the edge.

The senior committed last summer to Alabama − and he reaffirmed the commitment several times in the fall − but it is regarded as a soft commitment because Richardson said he is still considering Florida and LSU.

"Don't forget Florida State," said Richardson, who rushed for 2,090 yards and 27 touchdowns this fall. "It's close by."

Richardson watched Alabama lose 31-20 to the Gators, but the scoreboard was not the most prominent thing about the game to him. Richardson liked Alabama's style of run game. When offensive coordinator Jim McElwain called a screen pass to Coffee in the second quarter, Richardson envisioned himself on the end of that pass one day soon.

"I liked that play," he said. "I think they should run more of those."

If offensive line play is important to Richardson, he will have to consider Alabama's line and the players it loses following the 2008 season. Junior left tackle Andre Smith, an All-American, will likely be a first-round pick in the 2009 draft if he leaves school early. Senior center Antoine Caldwell is another NFL-caliber player who will be leaving, as will senior right guard Marlon Davis.

Florida might have a chance to lure Richardson because it has smaller, speedy backs in Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, but it does not have a dynamic back who can almost block for himself in the hole because of his size.

"He would fill a need for Florida, which is to have that guy who can run inside," Rivals.com recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg said. "They desperately want to sign a big back.

"Florida is trying to turn him away from Alabama."

Richardson said the result of the SEC Championship Game will not make or break his decision, which he said he will announce Feb. 6 at his high school.

What is significant to him is that Alabama and Florida look like they are going to be around the top of the national rankings for a few years to come. The Crimson Tide came into the SEC title game 12-0 and ranked No. 1 while Florida was 11-1 and ranked No. 2.

"There are a lot of good players at Alabama. I see all the freshmen that are playing, and they get ready to play real fast there," Richardson said. "They had just nine seniors, so they are still building the program back up."

Richardson is not afraid of Alabama stockpiling talent. Even with Coffee possibly back and Ingram assuredly back, the door is wide open for him to go 280 miles north to Tuscaloosa.

Newberg said Alabama and Florida have established themselves as the premier recruiting schools in their respective divisions of the SEC. LSU still has plenty of cache with players like Richardson, but the Crimson Tide and Gators are roaring toward signing day with a load of talent.

"Both schools are at a place with their recruiting where they are turning away very good players who want to go there," Newberg said. "Florida will have a class of 22 or 23 depending on attrition from juniors. Alabama will sign a full class.

"Richardson is definitely a prize for Alabama. You look at him and he has an NFL-type body right now. He is the best put-together running back I have seen at the high school level, and I have seen a lot in 16 years."

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