Richardson's picks a pleasant surprise for Soul

Posted: June 22, 2012

KENT RICHARDSON is on the verge of breaking the Soul's single-season record for interceptions. Anybody who saw that coming out of training camp must be lying.

Richardson, in his second season with the Soul, had two interceptions since high school. Two.

He had one last year and a nearly disastrous pick in his senior season at West Virginia. Richardson had three interceptions last week and has a league-best 12 for the season.

"I'm not too surprised," said Richardson, a native of Tallahassee, Fla., and one of the few Soul players back from last year's 6-12 misadventure. "I knew I could make the plays. It's all about the opportunity to make plays. When I was in college, I didn't have the opportunity that I have here. When I got here, I've made the best of it."

His college pick came late against Connecticut and would have practically sealed that 2009 game, except he was hit from behind and fumbled it back during the return (gasp). Three plays later, UConn scored on an 88-yard touchdown pass (double gasp). Richardson, however, was taken off the hook when West Virginia's Noel Devine ran for a 56-yard touchdown on the next drive and the Mountaineers held on.

The Soul (11-3) already clinched the American Conference's top seed, and defense is a big reason why. Philadelphia leads the AFL with 51 takeaways. Richardson is benefiting from the respect given fellow defensive back Rayshaun Kizer — teams are leery throwing his way — and the fine work from the hogs up front.

"It's a direct relationship of our pass rush," he said. "If the quarterback has all day to make his reads and throws, we wouldn't [be able to] do any good."

Richardson came off the bench early in the season, but gained a more consistent role when the Soul dealt Tanner Varner to Kansas City in midseason. As Richardson's confidence has grown, so has the confidence coach Doug Plank has in him. But you can't get 12 picks in 14 games without occasionally getting beat.

"I'm OK with taking chances, as long as they are educated and smart," said Plank, himself a former defensive back with the Chicago Bears. "Look at Ed Reed in the NFL. He makes incredible plays. It's not just that he's in the right place. He put himself there. He takes educated risks through his film study and knowledge of the [opponent]. Kent does the same thing."

Eddie Moten holds the team record with 13 in 2008. Moten played 16 games that year. Richardson will play in 18 by season's end, but could break Moten's record on Sunday in Game No. 15. Moten helped the Soul win the arena title that year, something Richardson is trying to duplicate.

"This is the most fun I've had since high school," Richardson said. "Anytime you are making individual plays, you know you're going to have fun. But the fact that we're all making plays, makes it even more [fun]."

The lowest point of Richardson's football career had to come when he was a reserve redshirt-sophomore in 2007. The Mountaineers were ranked second in the BCS standings and needed only to beat Pittsburgh to advance to the title game, which was in New Orleans — coincidentally, the site of this year's ArenaBowl championship. West Virginia, a 28?1/2-point favorite and at home, lost, 13-9.

"Now, being that I'm older, I know that you can't overlook anybody," said Richardson, 25. "I feel like we really overlooked Pittsburgh and were worried about the national championship. The opportunity was there. All we had to do was finish them off. We were too focused on [things like] making hotel reservations for New Orleans and ended up losing to them."

Richardson stopped for a second before continuing his thought: "This is definitely another chance to get back to New Orleans." n

Contact Ed Barkowitz at barkowe@phillynews.com.

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