Before the third day of Senior Bowl practice began, Asim Richards spent his last free minutes honing his blocking technique. Utilizing his quick feet to mirror the offensive lineman opposite of him, and positioning his hands, the North Carolina standout was refining what he would later showcase against some of the best senior defensive linemen.
Richards embarked on unfamiliar territory that week. After spending the last four years in Chapel Hill protecting his quarterback’s blind side, the Philadelphia native split time at guard and tackle at Senior Bowl practices, displaying his versatility in front of NFL scouts and personnel.
For most, the challenge might seem overwhelming, but for Richards, the situation was all too familiar. The versatile athlete played multiple positions — and sports — in high school.
After spending the majority of his time at the Haverford School as a tight end and defensive end, Richards played and started at tackle for four games as a senior. It was an introduction to a position that would become a mainstay for the then 6-foot-4, 270-pound athlete.
“The change to protect a quarterback, it wasn’t that big of a deal, because I knew it might be coming because someone [else] got hurt,” Richards recalls. “I just stepped in and did it. It wasn’t like I was catching a whole bunch of passes anyway at tight end, to be honest.”
Moving his feet to keep his defender in front of him was something Richards grew comfortable with, playing both basketball and football for the Haverford School. However, Richards knew he needed to pick one of the sports that could take him far.
Said Richards of his decision to pursue football over basketball: “When I got to a certain point in my career, I realized that football was going to take me far, and that’s when I started having that goal and dreams of making it to the NFL.”
While Richards began receiving football scholarship offers after his sophomore year of high school, he remained a basketball post presence. Brian Martin, the Haverford School’s head football coach and formerly the program’s defensive coordinator, marveled at this.
“He would work hard at both — even during the football season, he would come in the morning and take foul shots to do some boards work, [grab] some rebounds. And then he’d go out to football practice, and after football practice, he’s in the weight room,” Martin said.
“That was a guy that, to me, saw an opportunity and took advantage not only athletically, but also academically. He excelled in the classroom.”
Richards visited colleges during his junior year. The culture and atmosphere that Mack Brown’s football program displayed led to the tackle selecting North Carolina before his senior year of high school.
The commitment also came with the caveat that Richards would play left tackle, despite having limited experience playing the position in high school.
“Being a lineman, you have to put yourself in unnatural positions, doing unnatural movements, so there’s always going to be a challenge for anything,” Richards said. “Honestly, you just had to get used to it, and repetition helps with getting used to [playing tackle]. So repetition helps with getting used to things and then you just go on from there, try to get better to try to use technique.”
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The game slows down
Richards quickly emerged in North Carolina’s program, ascending to the starting lineup at left tackle as a sophomore, when he started 11 of 12 games in the pandemic-ridden 2020 season.
“Scheme-wise I say, like, mid-junior year is when it all started clicking. And then I just brought that over to me to see the game kind of slow down for me,” Richards said. “I kind of understood it better and I had a good year this year.”
After allowing three sacks in 1,049 snaps as a senior, earning him third-team All-ACC honors, Richards received an invitation to participate at the Senior Bowl, where top seniors at their positions compete for a week in Mobile, Ala.
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At 6-4, 307 pounds with 34⅛-inch arms, Richards had more than enough size to stick outside at tackle for the entire week, but he opted for an opportunity to diversify his potential NFL portfolio.
“I can easily play another position and get comfortable,” Richards told The Inquirer after Day 1 of Senior Bowl practices. “So, I’m really not worried about where I’m going to play in the NFL. Just showing the teams that I can play wherever.”
Now, as Richards prepares for the NFL scouting combine, one of 319 invitees in Indianapolis, Martin can’t help but be proud of his former player, even more for the teammate he became at North Carolina for than his athletic gifts.
“I told him when he came to school to visit, the one thing I love watching about you wasn’t that you were just a great pass setter, or you’re a good run blocker, but the fact that you saw your guys were running down the field and when they get tackled, you were the first guy running down there and picking them up,” Martin added.
“That was the best thing I’ve ever seen, so that was a total teammate right there.”
Most mock drafts are projecting Richards to be selected late on the third day, but a big showing in Indianapolis could boost his stock. And he is relishing the opportunity to showcase his skill set that projected so well from tight end to the trenches.
“Just showing them how well I move and I really get to display my athleticism during the combine. So I’m just excited for that,” Richards said.