BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Head coach Tim Lewis admits he wasn't very familiar with running back Trent Richardson when the Birmingham Iron of the Alliance of American Football league signed the former NFL running back to a contract.
Social media, though, offered an easy solution with plenty of video highlights for Lewis to review and discover what he had in the backfield.
"I didn't know much about him until I got a chance to watch him on YouTube once I saw that we signed him and I said, 'Holy cow,'" Lewis told NFL.com after Wednesday's practice. "I know why he was the third pick in the [2012 NFL] draft. He's very talented. He's explosive. He's powerful. He's strong. He's smart, tough. He blocks. He does everything pretty much he's shown on tape. I'm just fortunate to have him."
The 5-foot-10, 230-pound Richardson is easily one of the more intriguing players in the AAF, and the former Alabama star and NFL flameout has found success with three touchdowns through two games to help the Iron get off to a 2-0 start.
His journey, however, hasn't been easy. The former Browns No. 3 overall pick enjoyed a successful rookie season before he was traded to the Indianapolis Colts early in the 2013 campaign. Richardson quickly fell apart in Indy and lasted there just one more season. He followed that with short stints in Oakland and Baltimore where he saw no live-game action. Richardson totaled just 2,032 yards for his career with 19 touchdowns in three seasons.
The early stages of his professional career provided a valuable educational process for Richardson, who said he experienced personal pain by the episodes.
"I was hurt as a young man at the time," Richardson told NFL.com. "I wore my emotions on my shoulder. I was hurt by the game not being loyal to me and I had to realize as I get older that it is much bigger than me. I had the chance to see the business side of it and I get it now being older and wiser."
Richardson, who turns 29 on July 10, has had time to reflect over the years on what could've been, but he won't wallow in self-pity given the road blocks he endured during his career.
Instead, he views everything as a mature adult equipped with life experiences as he hopes to rejuvenate his career with a fresh start in the AAF and not dwell on the past.
"I don't think people realize that as an athlete, you don't get that many times to mess up," Richardson said. "You got from, really from me and my position that I had from 15 to 18 [age] in the parks and when I was in college I only had 18 to 21, and other than that I am a professional athlete.
"So to me, man, being part of a family atmosphere at the University of Alabama, when I got traded I didn't feel like football was a family anymore or loyal anymore. I have put all that stuff behind me, man. I've moved on. I've moved on to greater things and you go through life and you go through stuff."
A thoughtful Richardson, now a devoted father to three children, also knows what he would tell his younger self if he could go back in time to provide advice on how to handle life as a professional athlete.
"Learn how to say no early," Richardson said emphatically. "Learn how to say no and make sure that you know that you have your first business already, and it's yourself.
"One thing I have realized is that you are your own CEO. However you product yourself on the field, off the field, it's up to you because life is much bigger than football. What is life without football? One thing I had to realize without football is that it's much more than the game."
While Richardson currently has a different approach to his occupation when compared to his years in the NFL, he remains a professional player with a goal to one day make a return to where his career began.
And after he scored the game-winning touchdown last week against the Salt Lake Stallions, the Iron running back had the full attention of opposing head coach Dennis Erickson.
"I've always been a fan of his ever since he was at Alabama and I hope he has a chance to get back in the NFL," Erickson told reporters after the game. "I wish he could have left a day earlier."
Erickson's postgame comments provided a form of vindication for Richardson, who pointed out what he did in the Iron's 12-9 win over Salt Lake is ultimately what he's all about.
"It brings joy to me and puts a smile on my face for the opposing team, for the coach to say that type of stuff about me," Richardson said. "That means that people out there are seeing it and people are watching. They understand. They understand my hunger, they understand my grit I have for the game, and they know I'm going to play all four quarters and not give up."
In the meantime, Richardson has done his best to impress on the field through two games, totaling 163 total yards, and his three rushing touchdowns leads the AAF.
The Iron head coach certainly appreciates his running back's contributions, but stopped short of declaring that Richardson has regained his 2012 pre-draft form, albeit with a touch of humor.
"Oh, I'm not writing any checks for him," Lewis said with a chuckle. "I'm not trying to put any pressure on him. I just want him to be the best Trent that he can be, and right now he's done that every single day."
And that's perfectly fine for Richardson, who doesn't want to concentrate on individual statistics. He prefers to place focus on helping the Iron win football games while giving back to a league and community that gave him and others another chance.
"One thing I do want to do, I do want to play hard for the AAF and I do want to play hard for the Iron," Richardson said. "This city, they are behind us and they gave an opportunity that a lot of people didn't give us."
Richardson and the Iron are on the road in Week 3 to take on the Atlanta Legends (0-2) on Sunday at Georgia State Stadium.
Telesco officially isn't alone in the NFL with positive views on the new organization.
"I love the thought of the AAF giving players a chance to earn experience through playing the game of football at a high level," Browns GM John Dorsey told NFL.com. "And letting players showcase their skills and continue to develop."
Through a team spokesman, New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis tells NFL.com that he is "extremely impressed" with the AAF's organization from executives to coaching staffs. Loomis pointed out the league has quality football minds, naming the likes of AAF co-founder Bill Polian, Arizona Hotshots general manager Phil Savage and Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu, who serves as the AAF head of player relations, among others.
While Saints representatives have not attended any AAF games as of yet, the team is active in scouting every game with two weeks of film to evaluate.
An AFC executive echoed Dorsey's and Loomis' comments on the new league. The executive, who asked to remain nameless, told NFL.com that he and his staff are closely monitoring the AAF. He added that the AAF comes at a good time because of the annual draft process and the league could provide an option for NFL teams when it comes to signing undrafted free agents for 90-player offseason rosters and training camps.
The last point carries significance when considering many of the AAF players might already have been scouted and graded by NFL teams from past drafts or even from previously spending time in a team's camp.
Meanwhile, fans have also taken notice of the league and the proof is in the numbers.
The AAF experienced a 50 percent growth in online viewership across its platforms on its first day of Week 2 action, according to a news release by the league. The previous week saw comeback wins by Arizona and the Birmingham Iron.
"I'm always asked, what does success look like? My answer has and will continue to be, growth," AAF co-founder & CEO Charlie Ebersol said in a statement released by the league. "I'm encouraged by the 50 percent increase in online viewership across The Alliance platforms from Week 1. It's our belief that fans want more football, and if we can put good, quality football on the field, they will tune-in and engage with our product."
The Orlando Appollos had two guys garner Players of the Week from the second week of action.
Appollos quarterback Garrett Gilbert took home Offensive Players of the Week honors after completing 19 of 28 pass attempts for 393 yards with two touchdowns in a 37-29 win over the San Antonio Commanders. Gilbert's teammate, cornerback Keith Reaser, was named Defensive Player of the Week after recording two tackles, three passes defensed and a pick-six in the same game.