David Richards was the biggest fish from the Southern Methodist refugee relocation program, and UCLA was only too glad to reel him in. At SMU, he was an All-Southwest Conference pick at guard as a sophomore and an all-conference offensive tackle last year. Now, thanks to the NCAA's decision to allow Mustangs to transfer without having to sit for a year, Richards will play his final season of college ball in Los Angeles. Nothing—not all the four-color posters or the blizzard of press releases—will do more to improve the Heisman Trophy prospects of Bruin running back Gaston Green than the arrival of the 21-year-old tackle from Dallas.
Why is Richards so good?
"First of all," says UCLA offensive line coach Ed Kezirian, "he is extremely large." So, Coach, how large is he?
Well, he is so large that Bruin noseguard Terry Tumey has suggested building a condominium on Richards's person. He is so large that he has his shirts tailor-made in Hong Kong to accommodate his 21-inch neck. "I've always been bigger than everybody else," says Richards, who weighed 10 pounds, 3½ ounces at birth. He has since grown to 6'5" and—according to Richards—313 pounds, though he doesn't look a pound under 325. Perhaps he has light bones.
Richards asked to be slotted in the third unit when he arrived in Westwood this spring. "I requested to be put at the bottom of the depth chart," he says. "I felt it was important to be accepted by the team first. I had to earn their respect from scratch."
At SMU, Richards had seen firsthand the resentment spawned by special privileges for a few. "Coaches are forced to treat players who are paid different than they treat those who are not," he says. "It was the haves and the have-nots."
Richards says he was a have-not. "I wasn't getting a thing," he says, then corrects himself. "I was getting an education. But I never disagreed with I the payments]. I don't think it was wrong." Richards feels college athletes should be able to afford a date on Saturday night. "My parents have always been able to send me an allowance, to pay my car insurance," he says, noting that many of his teammates were not so fortunate.
Richards also feels lucky that, unlike some other SMU transfers, he will be able to play during his senior year. And he has also found Westwood a comfortable refuge off the field. The transition became even smoother when Richards's girlfriend, Laurene Lazzaretti, a former All-America swimmer at SMU, decided she had looked at one too many lane lines and followed David to L.A.
For Richards, the move to UCLA should make him an even better pro prospect by improving his pass blocking. "I learned more at one spring practice here than I learned in three years at SMU, as far as technique and little things," Richards says. Incredibly, he has not allowed his man through for a sack since his freshman year, but he attributes that to the sprint-out passing game used at SMU and the bigger, slower defensive linemen who populate the Southwest Conference.
Gesturing toward a recently arrived letter from the Los Angeles Raiders, Richards is convinced that the move to UCLA will enhance his career possibilities. It is a move, however, that he wishes he hadn't had to make. "The day the NCAA said they were going to cancel the football program was one of the saddest of my life," he says. Now, he is trying to put that episode behind him. "UCLA is far away from Texas," he says, "and at this point that's a plus. I wanted to get as far away from there as possible."
If Richards opens up enough holes for Green, it could be the start of a beautiful friendship.