Nov. 13, 2013
Ashton Richardson, left, with Auburn team chaplain Chette Williams
By Phillip Marshall
On Aug. 23, 2005, Ashton Richardson and his family fled New Orleans for Baton Rouge in the middle of the night, just hours ahead of the death and destruction brought ashore by Hurricane Katrina. It was Richardson’s introduction to the harsh side of life. He never lived in New Orleans again. A sophomore in high school, he had to start over in many ways.
For all of his childhood, Richardson dreamed of playing football at LSU, where his father, Al, had been an All-American. He planned to walk on, but when he told the doctor during his required physical examination a high school trainer once thought he had a concussion, he wasn’t accepted on the LSU football team. He sent out a highlight tape, and Auburn was interested.
Thus began Richardson’s great adventure.
Richardson didn’t just go to Auburn for football. He wanted to be a veterinarian. He heeded his parents’ advice to work hard, to care about others and live his life the right way. And he left an indelible impression on all who came his way.
In the Auburn Honors College, Richardson had a 3.94 GPA in animal sciences. He earned a scholarship as a hard-nosed middle linebacker who was always prepared and always did what he was called on to do. He reached out to the less fortunate in the community.
Last Nov. 17, while Auburn played Alabama A&M, Richardson was in Birmingham as a finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship. He wasn’t chosen, but he wasn’t finished either.
Richardson, now a graduate student in veterinary medicine at Texas A&M, decided to try again. And he’s a finalist again.
But that’s just part of the story.
“To be honest, after going through it last year, it was really a transformational experience for me,” Richardson said. “I really gained a better understanding about the opportunities veterinarians have to fight hunger and to help prevent disease in the developing world.”
Richardson doesn’t plan to give rabies shots to pet dogs and cats. He plans to make a difference.
“I want to work internationally in developing countries,” Richardson said. “I basically want to bring modern technology we have in veterinary medicine into the developing world in order to increase food animal production and also prevent disease. There are places in the world where 50,000 kids a year die of rabies, and it’s absolutely preventable.”
Richardson made an impression far beyond Auburn’s football program or athletic program.
Animal sciences professor Dale Coleman said Richardson embodies the best of being a scholar-athlete.
"To Auburn, Ashton is a true scholar-athlete," Coleman said. "But to the world, Ashton is so much more - a true gentleman and a true humanitarian."
Saturday, when No. 7 Auburn plays No. 25 Georgia at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Richardson will be back at Auburn to receive an honor as prestigious as any available to Auburn student-athletes. He will receive the Cliff Hare Award, presented annually to a student-athlete who, in addition to athletic and scholarship achievement, exhibits to a great degree the qualities of leadership and courage.
Last January, Richardson received the Bobby Bowden Award, presented by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to the FBS football player who best epitomizes a student-athlete.
Richardson never imagined such things when he enrolled at Auburn in the fall of 2008. His Auburn experience, he says, will be with him always.
“It changed my life,” Richardson said. “It honestly changed my life. I had a great home and awesome parents. They had an awesome support system. But I never knew I could reach the heights I have now.”
Chette Williams, Auburn’s team chaplain, had a significant impact on Richardson. So did his teammates, coaches and professors.
“It wasn’t my intention to end up at Auburn, but it was in God’s plan,” Richardson said. “Once I got there, the professors I met encouraged me and supported me academically. I had a support system in football through my teammates and Brother Chette. Through all that, those guys helped me see my true potential.
“Auburn gave me an opportunity to get involved with my community. I did a lot of work through Brother Chette. Those qualities are what make me a Rhodes Scholar finalist. Without coming to Auburn, I certainly wouldn’t have had those qualities.”
Richardson will accept the Cliff Hare Award, he says, not just for himself but for his teammates and for Auburn football.
“Our football program has gotten some bad press over the years,” Richardson said. “I’m just thankful to be able to show our football program facilitates the development of student-athletes. We have a great support system in Brother Chette. I was so honored to receive the Bobby Bowden Award. I just want to be a great representative of what Auburn football is all about.”
Richardson has watched with delight as his former teammates have led Auburn to a 9-1 record. He suffered with them through last season's 3-9 record.
I’m so proud of those guys," Richardson said. "I played with them last year, and they were all younger. To see the maturity level and how much they’ve grown up is just mind-blowing. I’m so happy they are having so much success.
"Years like we had last year are the start of the process toward becoming great. They went through the hard times and saw what it was like to not be successful. I think they learned a lot from it. Now they have the tools to fight through those close games and hard times."
Richardson was at Kyle Field wearing his Auburn gear when the Tigers knocked off Texas A&M 45-41.
"That was my first game at Kyle Field, and I loved it," Richardson said. "It was amazing. Before the game, a lot of my classmates gave me a lot of flak and they were talking a lot of noise. After the game, nobody wanted to talk to me. People were avoiding me. It was great."
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: