CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ahmmon Richards is finally healthy. And the junior wide receiver is making sure everybody knows it, including his teammates.
“Ahmmon? He’s blazing fast, he’s making cuts, juke moves all over the place on 7-on-7,” Hurricanes safety Jaquan Johnson said Wednesday at ACC Kickoff. “He’s feeling like himself. He’s going at it with Shaq Quarterman. When you’re talking to the middle linebacker on our team, that’s how he’s feeling right now.”
The former Wellington High standout is feeling “100 percent” after an injury-plagued sophomore season, and he’s ready to turn into the Hurricanes’ top target in the passing game again. He missed five games last year with various issues, including hamstring, ankle and knee injuries after a prolific freshman season.
The meniscus injury in his left knee that Richards suffered in a November practice during the Hurricanes’ preparation for the ACC Championship Game even limited him this spring while he rehabbed from surgery. As the setbacks mounted, so did his frustration.
“It sucked because you have expectations for yourself,” said Richards, who still managed to finish as Miami’s third-leading receiver with 24 catches for 439 yards and three touchdowns despite all of the injuries last season. “When you go out, you just want to have the best game you ever played. And when you don’t, it just sucks. You go home and you just think to yourself, I just can’t get it. Then it’s like one thing after another. It’s my hamstring, I had like a high ankle sprain at one point, then my knee. It was just one thing after another. It sucked.”
It sucked because all Richards wanted to do was build on his strong freshman season, when he earned Freshman All-American honors with 49 catches for 934 yards and three touchdowns.
But injuries held Richards back, as he revealed Wednesday that he was 100 percent healthy for only one game last season — a 31-6 win over Duke on Sept. 29. He finished with three catches for a season-high 106 yards and a touchdown that day.
“That’s why I wasn’t as good as I can be because it kind of hampered me from being in team drills and getting game reps,” Richards said when asked how he dealt with the injuries in practices last season. “So when I got to the game, I wasn’t game ready. Because in the game, everything moves faster. The ball is thrown faster, everything moves faster. I don’t think I was ready for game reps because I wasn’t practicing as much as I should have because I was injured and they were trying to keep me as fresh as possible.
“I couldn’t catch a break. It was like one thing after another. It just sucked.”
Everything about last season frustrated Richards, especially his inability to move around after knee surgery.
“After surgery I was still in pain, so I would just like sit on the couch with my leg up on something,” he said. “Walking around on crutches, it sucked. Everything about it sucked, it’s hot in Miami. I’m crutching around campus, it’s hot. It was just bad.”
That’s all in the past now, Richards and the Hurricanes hope. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Wellington native has been cleared to resume full workouts with the team since the summer, and he’s expected to be ready for the start of camp in just a few weeks.
And Richards is taking better care of his body now — a lesson he learned after all of the setbacks he experienced last year.
“That’s something I think I took for granted, whether it’s little things like stretching and hydrating,” he said. “That plays a big factor in the long run, and unfortunately I found that out the hard way. But I’m taking care of my body a lot more than I did before. I think I will benefit from it.”
Richards said this is the best he’s felt since before the start of last season, and the country expects big things from him this year. He was named to the watch list for the 2018 Biletnikoff Award on Thursday, an honor that goes to the most outstanding receiver in college football, and was named to the watch list for the Maxwell Award, which is given to the College Player of the Year.
“If he feels that good at the end of the year — all year — I’ll be so excited because it’s easier to call plays when you got Ahmmon Richards, I can promise you that,” Hurricanes coach Mark Richt said Wednesday. “He’s a great player, a great playmaker and he’s fun to watch. He’s dynamic. He’s an elite player.”
But when exactly did Richards know he was finally 100 percent healthy? He remembers the moment.
“We were doing a little 7-on-7 thing outside and I had caught a go route,” Richards said. “I caught it on the run and I just finished for a touchdown. It felt so like me. I just felt like finally, I didn’t feel like no injury. My leg wasn’t bothering me or anything. It just felt great. It was something I needed.”
It’s something the Hurricanes need, too.
“Yeah, Ahmmon looks like Ahmmon,” Johnson said. “You can tell, his confidence is up the roof right now. He’s feeling good, his body is healthy and he’s really looking forward to the opportunity when we get to play LSU and he gets to play one of the best cornerbacks in the nation.”
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