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Lions’ Offensive Pregame Preview: Rejoined by Richardson, TCNJ set to face NJAC’s top pass D

October 15, 2009

The last time TCNJ wide receiver Cam Richardson recorded a reception, Rowan University was two quarters into its 42-3 rout over the Lions in 2008—a disheartening finale to a disappointing 4-6 season a year ago.

For the CEO and board chairman of Cameron Richardson, INC., those final 17 yards closed the book on an all-conference-worthy resume (2nd Team All-NJAC). But for the modest, team-oriented future tri-captain of TCNJ’s pending 2009 roster, the loss fueled the furnace for an offseason raging with restless preparation.

A nine-month waiting game had begun.

    Hampered by injury since Week 1, Richardson looks to salvage the rest of his senior season

Hampered by injury since Week 1, Richardson looks to salvage the rest of his senior season

But while this Saturday marked his return from injury—one keeping him sidelined for most of the Lions’ unanticipated escalation to the top of the NJAC standings and dismemberment of its record books—in some ways, that maddening wait isn’t yet finished.

Poised in the preseason to capture his third All-NJAC honors of his career, Richardson hasn’t accounted for a single one of the team’s 91 receptions, nor has he tacked on any of its 1,348 yards. And while he’s watched TCNJ skills players celebrate in the back of the end zone 11 times in its first five games, he hasn’t tasted the glory of a fruitful 2009. Hasn’t even gotten a whiff of it.

But even with half of his senior season—likely his last as a competitive athlete—stained just above his memory’s printed “objects-in-the-mirror” disclaimer, Richardson couldn’t be happier now that he’s back.

“It feels awesome,” he said before Wednesday’s practice, while his offense—the nation’s fourth-most efficient points manufacturer (avg. 45.4 ppg) —prepares to battle William Paterson University’s stingy pass defense on its homecoming this weekend in Wayne, NJ.

While his chances to revisit past personal accolades might be behind him, Richardson’s unwavering spirit hasn’t budged.

“It just feels good to be out with the guys and having a good time. That’s all I’m really concentrating on right now.”

He appeared on only a few of TCNJ’s drives during its 48-34 win over The College at Brockport, but Richardson explained his limited action was designed to wean him back into heated NJAC competition, intensifying with each passing week.

As his team inches toward pivotal games against powerhouses in Montclair State University and a grudge match versus Rowan, Richardson is taking his reintegration into the lineup one step at a time—literally.

“I got some time last week and it just felt really good to be out there.”

Led by rookie corner in sophomore Steven Bovo, Jr.—whose three interceptions in his past two games thrust him into a tie for the NJAC’s second-least forgiving defensive back (Rowan Mike Barone leads conf. w/ 4 INT)—William Paterson has limited opposing quarterbacks to an emaciated 86.98 passer efficiency, the eighth-best first half in Division III (1st in NJAC).

The Pioneers’ habit of tormenting signal-callers is evident elsewhere, allowing the conference’s fewest pass yards per game, also among the best in all the land (144.40 avg. pass yds/gm; 21st in NCAA).

William Paterson kicked off the perpetual belt-tightening in its first appearance in 2009, minimizing the damage on The College at Brockport quarterback Jake Graci’s 10 completions on his 14 attempts.

In one of its season’s three losses to date (L 22-19), the Pioneers’ D put a ceiling on the NJAC’s second and third-most prolific pass-catchers, dampening Matt Newman to just 26 yards on his three snagged balls. Felipe Diaz didn’t fare much better, recording a mere 32 yards on two catches  (67.00 rec. yds/gm; 66.20 rec. yds/gm, respectively).

But TCNJ has a few playmakers of its own in wide receivers Colin Weber and Mark Gardner—both among the conference’s top performers in 2009.

Not to mention that Chris James character, the 13th-most efficient distributor of Division III pigskin (avg. 170.82 pass efficiency; 1st in NJAC). And there’s no questioning his enthusiasm upon the return of one of his favorite targets.

“It’s exciting,” Lions’ quarterback Chris James said after his third 300-yard performance against Brockport–and that’s without a fully-integrated Cam Richardson.

“Just having Cam out there as moral support and not seeing him on the sideline—everyone gets excited over it.”

James explained that even when he’s not immediately immersed in the action, Richardson’s ability to provide an instant spark provides extra comfort for him—already pampered with a multitude of viable receiving options.

“Even when he’s not out there because you never know when he’s going to come in, make a catch, and do something great with the ball. He is one of our, if not the best offensive threat on our team.”

Promoted to honorary team captain before his team’s road loss in Union against Kean University, Weber has found the end zone in all but one of the Lions’ games this season, coming back for second servings in two contests to date (2 TDs vs. FDU, Brockport). His latest performance, a six-catch, 104-yard Saturday afternoon over The College at Brockport, marks his season’s second eclipse of the century mark (6 rec., 199 yds in Wk 3 vs. FDU).

While Gardner’s been limited to 48 yards on three catches the past two weeks, his previous two outings weren’t as lackluster.

The Texas-native shined under the Friday night lights in his team’s embarrassment of FDU-Florham, averaging 29.8 yards on each of his four catches—one of them good for 66 yards (119 total) and six of the team’s record-breaking 67 points (originally 64; set in 1921 vs. Cathedral) posted on the evening.

Elated at the sight of such widespread offensive dominance, especially regarding the seniors—with whom he’s embarked on synchronous journeys in both football and life—he admits its zest has been bittersweet.

“It’s tough,” he said admittedly, describing his contradictory emotions while he watched from the sidelines, hampered by a high-ankle sprain since the team’s 47-38 win over Buffalo State.

“It’s tough to see the guys doing so well—I mean I’m so happy for them, like the offense was great with everything that [they accomplished]. But it’s definitely tough to not be out there.”

He could only offer limited insight regarding offensive coordinator Bobby Acosta’s intentions to reintroduce him to the mix of the NCAA’s fourth-most active scoring offense (avg. 45.4 ppg), but Richardson isn’t concerned with the prominence of his individual role.

“I guess [Acosta]’s going with a rotation, but at this point I’m just happy to be back. As long as I get some PT I’m not gonna sit here and complain.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 4pm.

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