The best wide receiver on the Colorado football team this spring might be the guy coaching the position. Troy Walters has made quite an impression on the young men he now leads since being hired away from North Carolina State in January.
Junior Paul Richardson said Walters keeps threatening to bring the Biletnikoff Award he won as a wideout at Stanford in 1999 to the Dal Ward Center to show off. Richardson joked that Walters hasn't followed through on the threat because the award is too heavy for Walters to carry.
They already seem to have a good relationship, which should aid Richardson in his journey to reclaim his starring role in the CU offense a year after a torn knee ligament ended his 2012 season in spring drills.
"Everything he coaches us to do, he can do it as well," Richardson said. "He shows us things. He still has it. He hasn't lost a step. I respect him as a coach. I feel when you respect your position coach a lot, it makes you compete better as an athlete."
Richardson returns to the field for the start of spring practices Thursday feeling nearly 100 percent recovered from his injury. He estimates he is 99 percent of the way back. Why 99 percent? He believes he will only get that final one percent back when he is on the field making plays against Colorado State in the 2013 season opener.
He insists he doesn't feel any pressure returning to a team that missed him badly last season.
"I'm looking forward to all the expectations. I really don't feel any pressure, ever. I live for big moments. I live to play up to expectations and I live to show everybody that it's not hype. I'm looking forward to it. I'm ready to have fun. I'm all smiles right now."
Richardson has never been one to go easy on himself and he's not about to start now just because he hasn't been involved in full contact football for nearly a year. He has set his hurdles high for 2013. He wants to see what kind of statistics he can produce in a full season on the field after playing two partial seasons in 2010 and 2011.
He didn't become a primary option in the CU offense and begin earning regular playing time in 2010 until nearly halfway through that season and he suffered a knee injury in 2011 that led coaches to use him as a decoy for half the year. He's eager to play in the new pistol offense, which he expects will give him plenty of opportunities to have the ball in his hands in space.
He showed what can happen when that occurs in a 2011 game against Cal when he caught 11 passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns.
"We always worry about: Is the defense going to try to double or triple cover me, safety over the top, press with the corner and drag out the linebacker, but I think I've been fortunate to have seen pretty much every coverage that can be thrown at me," he said. "I can't take all that attention without one of my other receivers being successful. So if I'm drawing that much attention and my other receivers are being successful, as a group we're winning. I'm not selfish at all. As long as we're being productive as a receiving corps, I'm all for it."
Richardson and other CU receivers have plenty of reason to be excited. The offense coach Mike MacIntyre and offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren will be installing produced 4,325 passing yards and 35 touchdown passes last season at San Jose State.
Safe to say that by the end of next fall, Richardson hopes to be considered the best receiver on the team instead of his position coach. He also wouldn't mind having a Biletnikoff Award of his own. Southern Cal receiver Marqise Lee won the award last season with 112 catches and 14 touchdown receptions.
If Richardson came close to those numbers, he would likely set CU records for receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches in a single season. But all of that is getting way ahead of the game. Richardson said his first concern above all is helping his team win more games.
Call him crazy, but he says with confidence that the Buffs could be one of the great turnaround stories in college football next fall. He wholeheartedly believes his team is capable of going from 1-11 to a bowl game.
"I just feel like we're a strong group," he said. "We've had a lot of injuries and coaching situations, losing players, being able to get younger players more experience, offensively not being able to do what we wanted to do in the past because we didn't have the personnel to do it due to injuries and guys not being mature enough to handle those roles yet.
"That's why I have so much confidence in our group now. We're going to have guys with experience. We're going to have guys back from injury and I expect nothing less than .500. ... I think us going into fall healthy, we're going to turn heads. People are going to have to respect CU football again."
Of course a big part of Richardson's personal and team goals becoming reality requires better decision making and production from the quarterback position. Six players begin spring ball vying for the right to throw passes to Richardson and fellow wide receivers such as Nelson Spruce, Tyler McCulloch, Gerald Thomas, Jeffrey Thomas and Keenan Canty.
If Richardson views any of the six quarterbacks as a favorite to lock down the job, he isn't saying who that is. He says he believes at least one man in the group will emerge by the end of spring and he will be eager to develop chemistry with the top quarterbacks on the depth chart throughout the summer.
"I believe that we'll have a quarterback soon. I don't think it's going to take much time throughout the spring to see who is going to be the quarterback and then that is going to create more competition."
Richardson's focus this spring will be on learning the system as best he can, developing his skills, some of which are likely to be rusty, and providing leadership. It's not necessarily his goal to become a team captain. He said he can still be a leader regardless, but he would be honored wear the C on his uniform if he is asked.
"I feel like the things that I've done speak for themselves and I just feel like my work ethic, my passion and what I bring to practice, what I bring to workouts and what I bring to games that's definitely captain worthy," he said. "You do have those guys that can yell a lot. You have those guys that can walk around and look mean and you've got guys who can do things here and there, but that doesn't make them a captain.
"If you're teammates can't feed off your energy, if your teammates can't count on you in crunch time, if your teammates don't feel like the way you play sets the bar or sets an example, they're not going to respect you as a captain. I feel like I've earned my team's respect as a captain, but even if I don't become captain, I'll still play hard, I'll still practice hard and I'm still going to compete all day long."
Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleRingo
CU spring football practice schedule
Today -- 3:45-6:15 p.m.
Friday -- 3:45-6:15 p.m.
March 12 -- 3:45-6:15 p.m.
March 14 -- 3:45-6:15 p.m.
March 15 -- Scrimmage, 4 p.m.
March 19 -- 3:45-6:15 p.m.
March 21 -- 3:45-6:15 p.m.
March 22 -- Scrimmage, 4 p.m.
April 2 -- 3:45-6:15 p.m.
April 4 -- 3:45-6:15 p.m.
April 5 -- Scrimmage, 4 p.m.
April 9 -- 3:45-6:15 p.m.
April 11 -- 3:45-6:15 p.m.
April 13 -- Spring game, Folsom Field, 10:30 a.m., Pac-12 Network, KOA (850 AM)
April 16 -- Practice 3:30-5 p.m.
All practices are open to the public.