By Mark Soltau
STANFORD, Calif. - Jordan Richards can't help himself. He's just a naturally happy person. Even on Saturdays, when he lines up as Stanford's starting strong safety against some of the best receivers in the country.
"Sometimes I'll get frustrated after games," he said this week, while preparing for Saturday's home game against Washington State. "For the most part, I'm a cup half-full guy."
With good reason. Richards, a 5-foot-11, 208-pound sophomore from Folsom, Calif., shines on and off the field. He received straight A's in high school and was a two-way star in football. Richards was contacted by many schools but applied to only one: Stanford.
"Once I got in, I was all in," said Richards. "Just because of the guys I met and the coaches. The program was winning and the academics are second to none."
Richards played in all 13 games last year in the secondary as a true freshman and received three starts subbing for the injured Delano Howell. His first career start came against USC, and he responded with eight tackles. For the season, he finished with 31 tackles and collected a season-high nine stops against Washington.
This year, Richards has started every game and ranks second on the team in total tackles with 37. He ranks 18th nationally in passes defended at 1.43 per game and has two interceptions. SI.com named him a Midseason All-America Second Team selection.
"He's becoming a complete safety," said David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. "Once you trust your ability, you can be aggressive and anticipate. You have to have a voice and command, and he does have that."
Richards calls most of the defensive signals in the secondary. Being a year older, he said, has made a world of difference for him on the field.
"I've played a lot faster this year because I know what I'm doing out there," he said. "It's like night and day. The game has slowed down so much."
Don't be fooled by his infectious smile. Richards is a fearless, physical player who has a knack for being around the football. Earlier this month, he was involved in 11 tackles in the wild overtime win against Arizona. He recorded his first career interception against Duke, and pilfered another against USC, as the secondary held Trojan quarterback Matt Barkley without a passing touchdown.
His biggest rush on the field so far?
"When we can dominate an offense, like we did with Cal," said Richards.
He has a friendly competition with starting free safety Ed Reynolds, who has a team-leading three interceptions. Richards would also like to return one the distance.
Growing up, Richards admired NFL safety Ed Richards, who played 10 years with the New England Patriots and New York Giants.
"He always found a way of getting to the ball," he said. "He just made plays." So does Richards. He figures to have a busy afternoon against the pass-happy Cougars, who have two outstanding receivers in Marquess Wilson and Isiah Myers, who have combined for 75 catches and nine touchdowns.
"We know he's (Wilson) another really talented player and we have to contain him," said Richards. "We held (Cal's) Keenan Allen to four catches. We have one of the best front-sevens in the country and know people will come at us. We welcome the challenge."
Richards said the defense enters every game with same mindset.
"If they don't score, they don't win," he said.
While quarterback Andrew Luck often carried the Cardinal last year, Richards said the defense is trying to return the favor in 2012.
"It's our chance to put our signature on the team," said Richards.
Richards hasn't declared a major yet, but already has a pretty good idea what he wants to do with his life. He's leaning toward public policy or sociology.
"I wouldn't say I'm a brilliant person, but I push harder than a lot of people," he said. "I've had so many great class experiences with all of my professors. I want to do something with minority education. I want to make an impact."
He already has with the Stanford football team.