TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama's Trent Richardson wasn't a starter when he arrived on the scene.
He was biding his time behind tailback Mark Ingram, who was his way to becoming Alabama's first Heisman Trophy winner. But Ingram knew before Richardson was named a finalist for the award this year that the Crimson Tide might have another candidate waiting in the wings.
Then a freshman, Richardson broke four tackles en route to a 52-yard touchdown against Arkansas two years ago in a run that has only grown in the retelling.
"He broke like seven tackles and then took it up the sideline for like 40 yards," Ingram recalled. "I was like, Yeah, that's not really normal.' I figured that we had a special guy."
A program that collected — by its own count — 12 national titles before fielding a Heisman winner now is hoping for its second in three seasons. And because of Ingram's looming presence, Richardson was a star long before he was a starter.
Compact, powerful and with a sprinter's burst, Richardson joins LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, Wisconsin tailback Montee Ball and quarterbacks Andrew Luck of Stanford and Robert Griffin III of Baylor as finalists for this year's Heisman, which will be presented Saturday in New York.
"As a child you dream of winning the Heisman or MVP at any level, and now that it's here and my team has worked hard for this, and I know I worked hard for it," Richardson said. "Just to represent for Alabama is going to be an honor for real, and to represent for (Florida hometown) Pensacola. It's pretty big for me. My name will be in the books if I do win."
Alongside Ingram, his former backfield mate now with the New Orleans Saints.
Richardson picked up where his predecessor left off, powering the Tide's offense into a national title shot Jan. 9 against LSU.
Since Archie Griffin won his second straight in 1975 for Ohio State, only Southern California has had two Heisman winners in a three-year span: Charles White and Marcus Allen (1979, '81) and Carson Palmer ('02) and Matt Leinart ('04).
Richardson has run for 1,583 yards and has 20 rushing touchdowns and three as a receiver. Not bad for a first-year starter, who never let on publicly if he minded running in second place for two seasons. His handling of that situation endeared Richardson to teammates.
"The first word that comes to my head when I think of Trent is 'teammate,'" Alabama left tackle Barrett Jones said. "He really is the ultimate teammate. Not many guys would have had the attitude he had these past two years. Probably would have started anywhere else in the country just with the talent level he had.
"He never said anything complaining. He was always worried about the team. All of us who have been here for awhile we're really excited for him to step up this year and for this to be his team. His humility and the kind of teammate he is really makes you want to block for a guy like that."
Richardson said he "just really had to humble myself" dealing with his first experience as anything but a starter. He still racked up 1,451 yards and 14 touchdowns — and two Sports Illustrated covers — before becoming a starter when Ingram left for the NFL, another move that Richardson could soon duplicate.
The 5-foot-11, 224-pounder has gotten plenty of attention for his weight room prowess — Tide coaches limit him to 475 pounds on the bench press and 600-pound squats — and ability to steamroll defenders or carry several for extra yardage.
Despite Richardson's physical style, coach Nick Saban scoffs at labeling him a "bruiser".
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