It was a Wednesday Travis Richmond has not forgotten. The freshman running back was at practice, preparing for a much-anticipated game against Stillman College. It was homecoming, and Richmond’s grandfather from Louisiana was planning to attend.
Because of a sickness, Richmond’s family wouldn’t allow his grandfather to go to games and watch Richmond play. But an exception was made for this game -- an exception that never came into fruition.
“I see my sister driving across this parking lot,” Richmond said of a vivid scene during practice. “She ran to me when she hopped out of the car. My grandad had died.
“That pretty much messed with me. Thought about that a lot.”
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He thought so much about it that it affected his grades. Richmond said he even reached the point where he would “stop, really, just thinking about school.”
As a result, the Fort Valley native was deemed academically ineligible after his freshman year and missed two years of football activities. And it wasn’t the first time academic eligibility was on his mind.
After his high school career at Peach County, Richmond said he received offers from Georgia Southern and Fort Valley State, as well as letters from schools such as Mississippi and Georgia Tech. But in order to be eligible, he had to pass the ACT.
“Fort Valley State offered me before I was even qualified, and it was just like, ‘They feel like you’re going to make it happen,’ ” Richmond said. “To me, it really just touched me that they were taking a chance on me and believed in me.”
The program’s belief in Richmond was warranted, as he qualified on the ACT. But FVSU’s confidence was not the only aspect that drew Richmond to the program. When he was a manager for the Peach County football team, Chris Slaughter, Antonio Henton and Tony Davis played for the Trojans.
All three later played for FVSU. They pitched Richmond to join them at FVSU, and it made a major impact on his decision. Richmond said Slaughter told him, “I want you to make the right decision, but we’ll love playing with you.”
“I hung up the phone, and I was just thinking, ‘Well, it would be hometown and get to see the same faces as I’ve seen since high school,’ ” Richmond said. “So I just went ahead and said Fort Valley State.”
The Wildcats struggled in Richmond’s freshman year with a 2-8 record, but he would not have a chance to avenge the team’s losing ways. He missed his sophomore and junior years and spent many restless nights considering his football future.
“I would just think and lose so much sleep thinking about, ‘What would it be like to play back on the field with all those guys?’ ” Richmond said. “All the old feelings -- the butterflies before the game, you know, I wanted everything. I thought about like, ‘Will I get that chance again, and how will it be when I get it back?’ ”
And while he was allowed to spend time around the team during his absence, Richmond said he “kept his distance” because it was too emotionally distressing.
“I already felt like I’m supposed to be here, and I thought about, like, it’s gone. I gotta wait. I didn’t really like feeling like that,” Richmond said. “I tried to come to the first game they had, and I had to leave by (the) first quarter; it hurt too bad.”
But the pain subsided this season as Richmond improved his grades enough to return to the field. All of his concerns had been answered as he once again felt the butterflies in his stomach he so sorely missed while away from the game.
In the opener against Delta State, Richmond was on the field as the Wildcats took the ball first.
“I was getting teary-eyed when everyone was setting up,” Richmond said of the first play. “It was amazing.”
His impact was immediately felt as he caught a 5-yard reception on first down. The work he put in during his two-year absence reaped benefits from the start.
“The first game, I was thinking like, ‘Wow, I’m glad I ran, I jogged, I lifted weights when nobody was watching,’ ” Richmond said. “I’d be up by myself until like 4 in the morning; I was thinking about all of that. It felt good to know all that work had paid off.”
And it has thus far this year. In four games, Richmond has accounted for 101 yards and three total touchdowns offensively. He also currently leads the team with 214 return yards.
Head coach Donald Pittman called him a “utility man.” The fifth-year head coach utilizes Richmond’s athletic ability in the slot and in the backfield and on kickoff returns. Richmond said he wants to make a noticeable difference on the field.
“When people come to the game, I want them to feel like they’re about to see a show,” Richmond said. “I just want to stand out, not in a selfish type. I want to contribute, but I want to be special with it.”
But he’s not simply playing for himself or his team. Now that he’s back, he’s playing for his grandfather who was only days short of watching Richmond play in that homecoming game in 2011.
“I feel like now he can actually watch the game,” Richmond said. “He’s actually really just watching me play. He might not be at the game, but I know he’s there in spirit. I’m putting on a show for him and my family.”