AMES — He was sick during the 2012 Liberty Bowl, but didn’t use that as an excuse for a loss.
He operated an an ailing ankle for part of the next season, but didn’t want to leave the field.
He battled shoulder issues last season, but responded to questions about it with his stock answer: “I’m fine.”
In short, Iowa State’s senior and clear No. 1 quarterback Sam Richardson is tough — an unfinished product, to be sure, but hard-nosed, driven and hungry to win.
“People in my family have instilled in me that I’ll always be that type of person to be a leader,” said Richardson, who started all but one game last season as the Cyclones went 2-10 and winless in Big 12 play. “Just jumping into football and being a quarterback, you’re thrown into that a lot.”
Richardson’s emerged as a lead-by-example type in the past, showing flashes of more vocal mentoring to younger players.
The 6-2, 214-pound Winter Park, Fla., native racked up 3,090 yards of total offense last season (2,669 passing, 421 rushing — becoming just the third ISU quarterback in program history to top the 3,000-yard plateau.
“I would argue that he has an opportunity to be a top-3 quarterback in (the Big 12) as we go into the 2015 season,” said Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads, whose team completed its first of 15 spring practices on Tuesday. “He’s experienced. He’s skillful. He’s going to be smarter with this (Mark Mangino-led) offense as he goes into his second spring of running it. I think his leadership abilities that he’s demonstrating are at an all-time high.”
Leadership’s one thing. Performance is another. If Richardson — who boasts a career 37 touchdown passes to 17 interceptions — is to become an elite Big 12 player, he’ll need help, and lots of it.
There’s talent in the trenches and the backfield and receiving corps. Some is seasoned. Lots is inexperienced. And the key to turning yards into points (ISU averaged just 23.2 point per game last season) depends on all those pieces somehow fusing together and refusing to fall apart when hard times inevitable hit.
“I thought last year we were an enthusiastic bunch of guys,” said Mangino, who begins season two of his reclamation project. "Were we a group that could handle adversity? I think the answer to that is, ‘No.’ So what we’ve done over the winter and now into spring, is we’re coaching our guys to be able to handle adversity and overcome adversity.”
“We will put them in difficult positions throughout the spring,” Mangino explained. “If we have to, we’ll put a scoreboard up there too. Put fourth quarter, eight minutes left and you’re down by 14. What are you going to do? Are you going to play hard? Are you going to find a way to win the game, or are you going to shrug your shoulders and say, ‘Oh, here we go again.’”
That’s where Richardson and other long-time starters come in. They’ve gone through two straight seasons far removed from bowl eligibility. That’s adversity. And that’s history — as long as the lessons gleaned from it are fully applied.
“He’s seen a lot of games,” Rhoads said. “He’s seen a lot of opponents. He’s been under the lights a number of times and has faced his share of adversity in every season and certainly doesn’t want to go out the way we’ve finished the last two seasons. As we talked about, with what I’m seeing out of his leadership, I’m sure that’s a piece of it than can help us in how he can redirect that focus and get us working with aligned behavior.”
Mangino’s seen the same thing, and expects to see more.
“I think right now, he is a guy that is a key leader on our team,” the former national coach of the year at Kansas said. “And how he’s done it: No. 1, is by example. He just tore up the winter workouts. I mean, he tore it up. When guys were huffing and puffing, he was standing there ready to go for the next one. So he’s leading by example and he’s not afraid to get after guys, either, and I like that a little bit. There’s nothing like some good peer pressure.”