CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa football coach Mark Farley doesn’t know when 17 freshman recruits will be allowed to arrive on campus because of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, highly-regarded freshman running back Jaylin Richardson was an early enrollee for Farley’s Panthers this spring. The Kansas City native was one of only a few recruits in the 2020 class Farley identified with a chance to contribute immediately, and his early enrollment had him positioned to capitalize on his head coach’s projection.
However, when the pandemic sent UNI students home, Richardson headed back to Kansas City, losing much of the advantages of his early enrollment.
“Enrolling early was really different, because a month before I was in high school and now I’m in college. It was a big change. A big shift,” Richardson said. “(It’s) way different than high school. I’m waking up at 5:30 in the morning to get ready to go work out or go run and then eat breakfast. Then, go to classes and work out again. Then homework with tutors. I know I learned a lot of things because it takes a lot out of you.”
While Richardson missed out on valuable spring practice opportunities, he still was able to get a head start on his freshman classmates, meeting many of his new teammates and getting acclimated with his new surroundings.
Since being back home, he’s been training with his brother Jake — a senior defensive lineman for South Dakota who UNI once recruited — and attending Zoom video meetings with position coach Nick Danielson and offensive coordinator Ryan Mahaffey.
“We communicate daily (with the coaches),” Richardson said. “All the relationships are good. We all keep in contact with each other.”
The Panthers were able to land Richardson only after Kansas pulled its scholarship offer.
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He committed to the Jayhawks last June. But many Division I programs over-recruit their scholarship allotments and it leaves a number of verbally committed athletes looking for new homes late in the recruiting process. So, after Kansas’ decision to use Richardson’s scholarship on a different verbal commit, he quickly turned to UNI and committed in December.
“The biggest factor that brought me to UNI was coach (Jeremiah) Johnson,” Richardson said. “We have a really good relationship. Once I committed to (Kansas) they respected my decision. When they got word that I wasn’t going to be going to KU, it was the day they were playing JMU (James Madison) and they reached out to me right then and there to let me know my offer was still there if I was interested.
“Signing day was in, like, three days. I didn’t even see UNI until I moved in January. I did a virtual tour on FaceTime.”
Headed into the 2020 season, the Panthers are in need of more production out of their backfield. Trevor Allen, the team’s leading rusher in 2019, graduated. Tyler Hoosman played in only 10 (of 15) games due to an ankle injury and Alphonso Soko missed 10 games with an Achilles injury.
Farley recently said he’s been eager to see Hoosman this fall after re-watching his tape from this past season. Meanwhile, Kansas grad transfer Dom Williams figures to be in the mix for carries along with Richardson in what’s sure to be an interesting fall camp battle — should there be a fall camp.
“They tell us (to) come in and you got to know what you’re doing,” Richardson said of his opportunity to earn carries this season. “You never know when someone is going to get hurt. For me, there’s definitely opportunity.
“No spring practices bummed me out because that would have helped me get my first feel of getting the plays down. I just need to be prepared. That’s what Coach (Danielson) keeps telling me.”