Richards is Cortland's Proud Country Boy
His teammates may jokingly call him Elmer, but Eric
Richards' farm boy ethos is something Cortland can learn from
this spring. "The work ethic and the
upbringing that he's had have been great for our team," said Red
Dragons head coach Steve Beville.
Steve Beville is closing in on three decades of coaching, so he's pretty much seen – and heard – it all. That was before Eric Richards, then a freshmen, ambled up to the Cortland coach and provided a once-in-a-career excuse for missing practice.
"He's still the only kid in my 25 years of coaching that had to miss practice because a cow beat him up," said Beville, recalling the event from 2009 with a chuckle.
That excuse might sound like a whopper, but when you've grown up working on a dairy farm like Richards, getting the worst of a run-in with a cow is a daily hazard of the job.
"I was called home to work and one of the old milking cows – they are about 2,500 pounds – was lying in the stall," Richards said. "I went to get it up and it wouldn't get up. I tapped its head, and it swung around and caught me right in the chest, throwing me back into the gate. I had some back issues and it set me out of lacrosse for about a week."
In the spring, lacrosse players are usually on the field, tackling their academics or getting a little rest. For Richards, a senior middie for the Red Dragons, it means his father could call him at any point and instruct his middle son to return to the 3,300-acre farm just east of Skaneateles, N.Y. – a 35-minute drive from Cortland. With over 3,000 head of cattle to be tended, there's always work to be done.
"If I didn't have a class on a Thursday or something, I'd be called home, work all day, and then come back for practice or whatever lacrosse things I'd have to do," said Richards. "Then sometimes I'd have to go home after that to finish the job. I'm pretty much back and forth. In the fall, after fall ball I'll go home and work over the weekends."
"He works his [butt] off for that farm," said Beville.
His farm responsibilities vary daily. One day it could be operating the tractor from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., with his mother bringing him lunch so he can eat on the move. Other days require grueling manual labor, like filling the bunk silos.
And there is the occasional task of motivating an ornery heifer.
Richards has also put in work for Cortland. After seeing limited time at attack his freshmen year, Richards has run on the second midfield line the past two seasons and will likely again anchor that unit. Although he is a wiry 6-foot-4, he's never been a big goal scorer (he has 18 career goals and five assists), but he gives the Red Dragons a consistent presence.
"He does everything well," Beville said. "He's got a good a stick, a good righty shot, he's smart with the ball and he plays good defense. He's right there and very steady. He doesn't make mistakes. He can play man-up or man-down. He has done a little bit of everything for us for four years and he's never complained about one thing. He's just been a hard worker."
With a more inexperienced team than Cortland has had in the last few seasons, albeit just as talented, Richards believes he can be a good role model to many of the younger players.
"I try to bring the farm aspect to lacrosse; just working hard during practice and games," he said. "I feel like I can make other people around me better and that will help our team out. I'm not a big goal-scorer at the collegiate level, but I'm able to possess the ball and do small things that will build up to a big play in the game."
"He picks up on things very quickly," Beville said. "The work ethic and the upbringing that he's had have been great for our team."
The other players on the team have a healthy respect for what Richards does both on the lacrosse field and on the farm, but they aren't afraid to give the country boy a hard time. They break out the needle by calling him Elmer.
"Elmer is my middle name," said Richards, who often fields simplistic questions about the intracacies of farm life from his Long Island teammates. "The name of the farm is 'Elmer Richards & Sons,' and my grandfather started it. It's a heck of a farmer's name, so they call me Elmer. If I come late to practice every once in a while, they'll ask me, 'Did the cows get out?' I enjoy it. I love the guys on the team."
Richards favorite game every year is when the coaching staff relaxes the standard road trip dress code, which is shirt and tie, and allows the players to go, as Beville says, "Upstate New York redneck." The attire for that bus ride consists of flannel shirts, jeans and Timberland boots.
"Richards is in his glory," Beville said. "He's got the overalls going."
"Everyone's got their flannels on, and I show up and it's everyday attire for me," Richards said. "That's another joke everyone makes: 'Hey, Richards isn't even dressed up!' I've got my big belt buckle, my jeans, boots, John Deere hat. A lot of the other guys have their boots untied and they don't have a belt on and they don't have their shirt tucked in. I was just trying to look proper like I always do."
Cortland's gone country, and Richards is making it look good.