AUBURN - On a day when there was yet more talk about the Auburn football team's 1-7 record, when Gene Chizik was again asked about his future as Auburn's head coach, senior linebacker Ashton Richardson had a happy story to tell. It was a story of dedication, determination and accomplishment.
Ashton Richardson has a 3.94 GPA in animal sciences/Todd Van Emst photos
And it had little to do with football.
Richardson, the son of former LSU linebacker Al Richardson, walked on at Auburn out of New Orleans in 2008. He has a scholarship now, but he talked Tuesday about a very different kind of scholarship. Ashton is a finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship.
At the Auburn Honors College, Richardson is known as a football player. But he's known more as scholar with a 3.94 GPA in animal sciences (pre-veterinary medicine). On the day Auburn plays Alabama A&M, he will go to Birmingham for an interview to determine if he becomes a Rhodes Scholar.
"I was definitely overjoyed about it," Richardson said. "Going into this whole process, I didn't really understand how big of a deal it was. As I learned more about it, I realized this is a life-changing thing. When I got the news, the first thing I wanted to do was thank God for it and then notify my parents. They were also overjoyed. It was just a great day."
Only the best of the best get to the place where Richardson is. How difficult is it for a football player to do that? Consider a typical Tuesday for Richardson:
"I wake up probably around 6 o'clock and probably get an hour's studying in," Richardson said. "Then I have an 8 o'clock class. When that class gets out, I come here and go straight to workouts. I usually have about an hour gap to get some lunch before my organic chemistry lab. That goes from 12 to 3, then I'm coming straight to practice. After that is usually get something to eat, get an hour nap and then I'll study again for another four or five hours."
There were times when he was a walk-on, Richardson admitted, that he wondered if it was all worth it. The answer was always the same. Working hard to accomplish his goals comes naturally. It's the way he was raised.
"Definitely, I've had a lot of help from my parents," Richardson said. "Growing up, they definitely did a great job of instilling the mindset of working hard. I've carried that on into college. For me personally, it's just been a matter of knowing how to prioritize my time. I don't get t go out as much as a normal college student would. Most of my free time is dedicated to studying when I'm not getting ready for football.
"It's just working on time management and being committed to maintaining my GPA."
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."
Rhodes Scholarship winners have opportunities to do graduate work at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Richardson said he has a plan if he is selected. He wants to pursue master's degrees in bio diversity, conservation and management and in environment and climate change.
"My aspiration is to be a large-animal vet," Richardson said. "I feel like as a large-animal vet I would be working in rural communities, and learning about bio diversity and conservation and management is the best way I can use that education to give back to those communities."