LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Baylor guard Cyril Richardson, a fifth-year senior from North Crowley, recalled reporting to his first fall camp in Waco carrying “70 pounds of bad weight.”But he rearranged those pounds through better eating habits and lengthy sessions in the Baylor weight room. The effort helped transform Richardson (6-foot-5, 340 pounds) into one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy, given to college football’s top interior lineman during Thursday’s telecast of the Home Depot College Football Awards show (6 p.m., ESPN).If Richardson hoists the hardware, he will become the second consecutive high school player from Tarrant County to take home the Outland Trophy. Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, an Arlington High School graduate, won the award last year.Richardson said he is “grateful” for the push he has gotten throughout his college career from Kaz Kazadi, Baylor’s strength and conditioning coach, that helped transform his mental approach as well as his body for the rigors of major college football.“It made me a better person. It made me a better athlete, too,” said Richardson, one of six players with Texas connections who are finalists for individual honors Thursday. “I never thought I would be this strong. I wasn’t really that strong coming out of high school. Now, I feel like there’s nothing I can’t move.”Richardson has moved enough opposing defensive linemen this season to help No. 6 Baylor (11-1) win its first Big 12 championship while leading the nation in scoring (53.3 average) and total offense (624.5 yards per game).If his name is called Thursday night, Richardson said, “That would be wild. It would be a great experience and it would be fun to bring that trophy back to Baylor. It’s a big honor.”As the lone Bear up for individual honors during the ceremony at Disney World, Richardson has the unwavering support of teammates who will be watching the telecast in Waco.“He deserves to be there, 100 percent. I think he deserves the trophy, too,” Baylor linebacker Eddie Lackey said. “Cyril’s an animal in the trenches. But he’s also very fast. On any type of pull block, he can turn that corner and get downhill really quick. That’s the big thing about him. He’s just an athlete in a lineman’s spot.”Richardson will be joined as an Outland finalist by Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews, one of four Aggies in contention for individual honors — most of any FBS school. Other potential A&M honorees include quarterback Johnny Manziel (Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award), receiver Mike Evans (Biletnikoff Award) and punter Drew Kaser (Ray Guy Award).Texas kicker Anthony Fera, a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, joins Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert (Jim Thorpe Award) and Richardson among the list of potential winners from Big 12 schools. But Richardson, whose family moved from New Orleans to Fort Worth after being uprooted by Hurricane Katrina, is the only potential honoree from a Tarrant County high school.Baylor defensive end Chris McAllister, a fifth-year senior who was part of Richardson’s recruiting class, said Richardson’s work ethic has made him a role model and mentor to teammates on both sides of the ball.“Cyril’s a great offensive lineman. He works hard at what he does, and he’s good at what he does,” McAllister said. “He brings a physicality to the game. A lot of guys try to do that, but Cyril’s good at it. If Cyril wants you to move, he’ll move you out of the way. He’s just a smart, physical player that has technique.”On Thursday night, that could make him the second consecutive Outland Trophy recipient from Tarrant County.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch