An unusual start to an extraordinary career
One glance at Weston Richburg is enough to tell you he could never play quarterback. Except, he did. At 6’4” and 300 pounds, Richburg is a picture-perfect offensive linemen, and he has made a name for himself as the Rams’ star center.
But as a freshman in high school, Richburg was a buck fifty, and stood 5’10” — roughly the size of New Orleans Saints star, Drew Brees. So Richburg played quarterback for Bushland high his freshman year, and probably would have played a second, if not for a season-ending knee injury.
The bum knee forced Richburg to sit out his sophomore and junior seasons, eliminating all his chances of a Division I football career — or so he thought.
“I thought I was going to go play Division II football and just go get a degree and then a job,” Richburg said. “But then my high school coach actually sent out some film to (CU-Boulder) and CSU and I got lucky enough to get called by one of our coaches here at the time.”
Richburg has proved that recruiting him was a smart choice from day one. He is the only player at CSU to start all 49 games of his career. Those numbers are a testament to his raw physicality but even more so his hard work and determination, a determination that spawned from years of being underestimated.
“I’ve always been a guy who’s at a smaller school, people always speculate, ‘Oh he can’t play with the bigger schools, bigger guys,’” he said. “It’s just been the common theme to use that as fuel and prove everybody wrong and that’s really helped me big time, especially coming out of high school.”
Richburg is hoping to use that fuel at the next level as well, but he is taking it one step at a time. Next on his to-do list is to win the New Mexico Bowl; NFL draft speculation can wait until after Dec. 21.
The Fairchild Era
Richburg is one of the few players on the team to experience a full two years under both former coach Steve Fairchild and current coach Jim McElwain. With two different adventures under two very different men, Richburg still holds a deep appreciation for the coach who spotted him.
Former CSU assistant Tim Duffie, who served as CSU’s primary recruiter for the state of Texas and is now an assistant coach for Oklahoma State University, saw something in Richburg that others missed. Duffie was the first person at CSU to find Weston, said former head coach Steve Fairchild.
“We went down and met Weston and his family and just really liked what he did on the football field and what he was as a person,” Fairchild said.
Fairchild said he could tell Richburg would be special right away and showed he could be a leader from the minute he stepped on campus. That leadership is what made Fairchild and his staff move Richburg to center, a position he had not played until arriving at CSU.
After redshirting his first year, Richburg started the 2010 season at guard before being moved to center.
“We wanted the center to make a lot of calls and kind of run the show up there and he just has that personality,” Fairchild said. “He’s really a tough kid when he gets on the football field; you could tell early on that he was going to have a good career.”
Richburg has the accolades to prove it. He was named a first year all-American in 2010 and over the course of the last three seasons he has been named a candidate for the Rimington Trophy each year, an award given annually to the nation’s top center.
This season he was voted to the Mountain West all-conference first team along with four other Rams. He has started all 49 games of his collegiate career and is the first Ram since Denver Broncos tight end Joel Dreessen to be invited to play in the Senior Bowl in January.
Richburg said he wouldn’t be where he is now without Fairchild, and right now he is in a spot where many people, including former Broncos center Tom Nalen, think he will be drafted into the NFL come April. According to Fairchild, Richburg has the makings of an NFL center.
“I coached eight years in the NFL and I think he is definitely a draftable prospect, there’s no question about it,” Fairchild said. “I hope it happens for him because he’s such a great kid.”
Even with all the speculation, Richburg remains the same small town guy he has always been, according to teammate and fellow Bushland product tight end Crockett GIllmore.
Gillmore came to CSU one year after Richburg and was also voted to the Mountain West all-conference first team this year. He called the kind of talent Richburg posses “unreal.”
“I’ve known him forever and to watch him grow up over these years, it’s scary, it really is,” GIllmore said. “If he continues this, (and) what he is capable of, there’s no telling where it’s going to end for him. I’m really excited for him.”
One is silver and the other is gold
Richburg is a professional. He works hard and plays his game just the same regardless of whose name is written on the coach’s door. But he notices when a coach has gone above and beyond the normal duties.
Richburg will always respect Fairchild as the man who introduced him to Ram athletics, but McElwain brought him to a bowl game — a chance Richburg will never forget. He places a greater importance on Saturday being his first bowl game than his last collegiate match.
“It’s really exciting, something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “Even though my last game is kind of going to be a really special deal, I think that just being that it’s a bowl game is gonna be more important to me.”
McElwain and Richburg share the same competitive spirit. Neither one is inclined to take credit for individual accolades, and neither are they ever satisfied. Perhaps that is their strongest bond. They don’t have the buddy-buddy relationship McElwain has with some of his other players, but they share a deep-rooted respect for one another.
Richburg has been described by teammates as being so driven towards success that it is almost manic. He has a specific pre-game routine that he cannot break, lest it bring bad luck. Not exactly superstitious, but close.
“I get dressed the exact same way every time. Always wear two pairs of socks, always gotta put my knee braces on left knee first then the right knee, always gotta get my wrists taped before I put my shoulder pads on and then put my shoulder pads on and then get my gloves taped,” he said, smiling. “It all has to be in that certain order or I feel really nervous when I go out on the field because it changes something that I usually stick with that usually works for me.”
Off the field, Richburg is an easy-going, laid back country boy, equipped with a charming smile and piercing blue peepers – another trait he shares with his coach. Both sets of eyes flame with competitive intensity when talking about the love of the game, but they fill with compassion if the subject changes to teammates.
“I’m gonna miss the relationships because I’ve met a really special group of guys,” Richburg said. “I think my recruiting class came in with 20 something guys, there’s only like six of us left now so you know I’ve gotten really close with those other five, six guys.”
McElwain frequently expresses his favorite part of being a coach and educator: to change the lives of these young men. He is a coach who is big on winning and bigger on family. He does what it takes to be successful in a lucrative business, while showing his players how much he cares for them – especially when they work hard for him.
The Richburg-led offensive line works as hard or harder than any unit on the team, and Mac has taken note.
“As I said when I took the job over, the most important people on the team are your linemen, end of discussion,” MacElwain said. “I can only say it this way: one of the things you notice when you watch video is reaction on the sideline. You see this group of offensive linemen, and their energy and excitement – I can really tell they’re into it. That speaks a lot about those guys.”
Saturday is a day of firsts and lasts for Richburg and his coach, but win or lose, that competitive spirit won’t be lost. Expect a lot more greatness from both of them.