“I was like, ‘Who is this kid they’re talking about?’” Morris said this week. “So I finally saw him. He had calves of a grown man.
“So it was kind of funny. He was always muscular and bigger than a lot of the other kids.”
Richardson also fondly recalls his early encounters with Morris. They played for rival little leagues and before a sandlot game, someone pulled Morris’ hair.
“Alfred had a lot of hair, long braids,” Richardson started. “He got so hot and everyone was so scared of him. Nobody would touch him.
“He says I was big, he was the biggest dude out there.”
The pumped-up Pensacola pals will meet again Sunday — once more on opposite sidelines — when the Browns host the Redskins. The city of 52,000 has more than a dozen players in the NFL, and two will be the featured running backs on streaking teams clinging to playoff hopes.
Richardson entered the league with the recognizable name and the headlines. He was the No. 3 pick in the draft by the Browns after winning two national titles at Alabama.
Yet through 13 games, the sixth-round pick from Florida Atlantic has the statistical advantage. Morris is second among rookies, and fourth overall in the NFL, with 1,228 rushing yards for Washington. Richardson is third among rookies, and tied for 14th overall, with 869. Richardson has a 9-7 edge in rushing touchdowns.
“We’re in two totally different situations, two different divisions. I don’t take pride in having more rushing yards,” said Morris, who’s averaged 4.9 yards a carry. “I really don’t even think about it. I’m just happy that he’s doing good and that I’m doing good and just to make it this far coming from where we came from is just an accomplishment in itself.”
Richardson said he isn’t bothered by looking up in the rookie rankings.
“I think I’m having a pretty good year myself,” he said. “I’m not saying I’m satisfied. I know I can do better.
“But I’m not challenging anybody or hanging onto anybody’s yards. I don’t care what they’ve got. As long as we’re on board with winning, it doesn’t really matter.”
Morris has benefited from the presence of dual-threat quarterback Robert Griffin III and the zone-blocking scheme of coach Mike Shanahan. Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and Clinton Portis rushed for 1,000 yards as rookies in Denver under Shanahan, and Portis was the only one drafted before the fourth round.
“Not everyone can come into his system and be successful, but at the same time he does a great job of finding those backs who fit it perfectly,” Morris said. “I knew about the history but I wasn’t thinking about a big year. My initial thought was being thankful to be drafted coming out of the situation that I did. I wasn’t guaranteed a spot on this team so I had to bust my butt in camp.”
Richardson said his relationship with Morris goes back to when he started playing football at 6 years old. They also played basketball against each other in Florida’s panhandle along the Gulf Coast.
“We’ve not only been archrivals, but good friends, too,” Richardson said. “Alfred always had fun. He’s one of those guys who don’t get mad, he’s a Christian guy. He always had great grades. I would be mad at him because he had all A’s and stuff.”
Browns defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin also hails from Pensacola. He and Richardson went to Escambia High School, while Morris attended Pine Forest. Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, also went to Escambia.
“It’s been a quiet kept secret for a long time,” Rubin said of Pensacola. “A lot of guys down there are really trying to do better and the best for their families and trying to be good professional players.”
Richardson has told a lot of stories about his difficult upbringing and the temptation on the streets of Pensacola. The setting stops some from greatness while pushing others toward it.
“People just don’t get the shot that we had or people mess up in the streets or get into bad stuff and handle the situation in other ways than what me and Alfred have,” Richardson said. “People are just really hungry and want to better their lives and want better for their family. I know me growing up I always wanted to make sure my mama didn’t have to work again.
“Pensacola, it’s a place where you can feel like I’m glad I’m from here ’cause it made me and everything I do, it pushed me to strive for much that I want in life.”
Unlike the northerners asking the questions, Morris isn’t surprised by the success of those from his hometown.
“I don’t know what’s in the water, but I’m not amazed,” he said. “It is a blessing, but I’m not shocked because we do have a lot of talent.”
It will be on display Sunday — about a thousand miles north.