GAMEDAY: Sweet Home Alabama

GAMEDAY: Sweet Home Alabama

Mullaney gets tackled after completing a pass against Georgia. CW | Layton Dudley

Richard Mullaney has found his home.

The day after his graduation party, he shoved as much as he could into two duffel bags, hopped on a plane and found himself in Alabama with no idea what to do.

The new Alabama wide receiver didn’t know the campus, and he didn’t know where he was going to live. Thankfully for Richard, his mother, Michelle Mullaney, quickly found him an apartment. Soon after, Richard signed his lease and had a roof over his head to accompany his two bags of clothes, but that’s about it.

“He didn’t have a car. He didn’t even have sheets,” Michelle said. “I said, ‘Go to Target. I’m going to be there in less than a week, just pick up the minimal stuff you need.’ ”

When Michelle got to town, she did what mothers do best and made sure her son had everything he needed.

“Then he was comfortable,” she said.

Once all of his living necessities were taken care of, everything else just fell into place.

He grew up in Thousand Oaks, California. He spent four years of his life in Corvallis, Oregon, while attending Oregon State for his undergrad. And now, he finds himself in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

“This is his home,” Michelle said. “He loves it. He is so happy.”

A warm welcome

From the beginning, Richard and his parents felt wanted by Alabama.

He graduated from Oregon State on Saturday, June 13, 2014. Two days later, he hung up the graduation gown and caught a 5 a.m. flight for Tuscaloosa.

He and his parents arrived on campus around 4 p.m., and everything unfolded rather quickly. They met the coaches. They had dinner together. Then, after a conference with head coach Nick Saban, Richard was offered a scholarship and had a choice to make.

They were going to visit four other schools, but when the moment came, his father Bob Mullaney was ready with some honest, easy to follow advice.

“I just said to my son, ‘It’s real simple. I don’t know what else you’re going to hear from anybody else, but you’re going to be playing for a National Championship if you come here and they know you and they want you,’ ” Bob said.

Richard turned to his father and finalized it all right then and there: He committed and was going to become a new member of the Crimson Tide.

“It really happened within a 48-hour period,” Bob said. “Alabama did it right.”

Mullany returned home, and within a week and a half – if that – was back in Alabama.

Family ties

Richard left behind a family back in Oregon: his team.

It wasn’t easy leaving his Oregon State teammates and coaches, Michelle said. It only made it slightly easier that Oregon State’s head coach Mike Riley was leaving the team as well, and Riley was the original reason Richard went to Oregon State – it was just a coincidence they were both leaving at the
 same time.

“Richard stood out because he was one of those guys that’s a real good picture of what you’d like everybody emulating,” Riley said. “He always took care of business.”

Riley, who is now head coach at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, had mixed emotions about Richard’s transfer. As a former Alabama defensive back, Riley was torn between his love of Oregon State and his love of Alabama.

In the end, Riley knew it wasn’t up to him. He would be happy with the choice Richard made.

“He’s got to love it at Alabama,” he said. “I’m happy for his experience because I lived it. I know what it’s like, and it’s a great place.”

Richard’s wide receiver coach at Oregon State, Brent Brennan, said he was disappointed when Richard left, but only because he loves him. In Brennan’s eyes, Richard handled the whole situation in the right way. He knows Richard loves the game of football and because of who he is, the whole transition and joining a new team wouldn’t be an issue.

In the end, both coaches knew going to Alabama was in Richard’s best interest, and they support him regardless of the uniform he’s wearing.

“We miss ‘Tricky Dick’ here in Corvallis, but we are all rooting for him,” Brennan said. “We love him either way. He’s family.”

While he still stays in contact with many of his old teammates, Richard has gained a new family here at Alabama.

When Michelle first came to visit, Richard was showing her around town when the two bumped into teammate Reggie Ragland. Michelle said Ragland introduced Richard outside of football and showed him the town. He was the first person Richard connected with.

Then came the rest of the team.

“He hangs around with pretty much everybody on the team,” Bob said.

On Thursdays, Bob said it’s a weekly thing that Richard goes out to dinner with Jake Coker, Ryan Kelly and Dillon Lee. Every other day is fair game with the rest of the team.

“He’s got some great friends,” Bob said. “I would call them lifetime friends.”

Bob said Richard’s new friends plan to teach him how to hunt and fish, which as far as he knows, his son has never done, but he’s learning a few Southern traditions here and there.

Richard has a few options for Alabama’s bye week, but if his dad had to bet, he thinks his son will finally take up Coker’s offer – who’s asked him a few times – to go to his family farm and hunt.

In the three months he’s been in Tuscaloosa, Richard’s team has become more than just a second family, and his immediate family couldn’t be happier.

“I think this family knows more about him than I do,” Bob said. “He’s doing a bunch of stuff he’s never done before.”

New school, new identity, same traditions

He may have been referred to as “Tricky Dick” at Oregon State, but at Alabama, Richard has been given the nickname “Slotty Pippen.” He and his teammates aren’t really sure how it started, but it’s stuck.

It’s even his Twitter account name.

“I’m helping promote that,” teammate Alphonse Taylor said. “I like that nickname.”

Taylor also has his own nickname: Shank. He’s had his nickname since park-league football, but he likes his teammate’s a little more.

“That’s better than my nickname,” he said. “I’m a little jealous.”

No one has taken credit for starting the nickname and Richard isn’t entirely sure how it started – it just randomly became a thing after the Georgia game. Whoever came up with it and why is staying quiet, but “Slotty Pippen” is here to stay.

Equally as famous as his nickname is his beard. Richard doesn’t shave while football season is in session.

“He drives me nuts,” Bob said. “He’s a good-looking boy so I go, ‘How do the girls even look at you like this?’ and he goes, ‘Dad, not a problem.’ I laugh like it can’t be.”

His dad will never understand ritual – he’s convinced birds will nest in there eventually – but if it works, it works.

Richard also has a more significant routine.

Before every game, he tapes his wrist, slowly but surely wrapping it around one loop at a time. Right before he finishes it off he takes a Sharpie and writes in bold letters “RIP G OLA” on the wristbands.

His great-grandma Leola died in August just before the season started. So he writes her name in honor of her death so that way, she is always with him on the field.

“When football started, he said to me, ‘Mom, this season I’m dedicating to Grandma Leola,’” Michelle said.

After a game ends, he takes his time to unwrap his wrists and gives the band to his mom to keep.

His dad jokes that Michelle blow dries the wristbands since they’re sweaty after a game, but in reality, the fact that Richard takes the time to do such a thing before each game means just as much to them as it does to Richard.

“I think his memory of his grandma is a special thing,” Bob said.

A new level of athleticism

Thousand Oak High School’s head coach Mike Leibin remembers Richard to this day.

“I honestly cannot remember him ever having a bad practice during those two years,” Leibin said. “He kind of set the tone for the rest of the team, really powerful when your best football player is you hardest worker.”

Leibin has kept up with Richard during his college career, both at Oregon State and Alabama.

He said Richard is a lot stronger, his speed is as good as ever, and he’s a physical blocker in the run-game.

“The rest of it is what we’ve always known that Richie can do,” he said.

At Oregon State, Richard finished his final season with 18 receptions for 216 yards and one touchdown. His season was cut short six games in due to a season-ending elbow injury. The year before, he finished with 52 receptions for 788 yards and three touchdowns.

“It’s easy to coach Richie,” Riley said. “He’s a diligent player, a real good player. He liked football – ever day was pretty easy that way with him. I never had to worry about Richard.”

Richard has some of the best hands Riley said he has ever been around.

Before it was all said and done, Riley said to Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin that there is one thing about Richard that you can count on as a coach: “that guy will make plays for you and he’ll know exactly what to do.”

Once Richard transferred to Alabama, his skills continued to improve and he’s done his former coaches proud. Mullaney debuted with the Crimson Tide against Wisconsin, where he had two receptions for 38 yards. His first start was three games later against University of Louisiana-Monroe. He finished with two receptions for 10 yards.

“He has a good combination of size and quickness,” Brennan said. “His ability to play the ball and finish is as good as I’ve ever seen.”

Richard totals 23 receptions for 437 yards and three touchdowns. He averages 31 yards per game.

Leibin said there are many reasons Richard has found success at wide receiver. He’s a great route-runner and has tremendous ball skills when it is in the air. But, he knows he’s not always going to get the ball.

“He’s willing to do the dirty work that a lot of receivers at the top end aren’t willing to and that’s he’ll block guys when it’s run-game,” he said.

Leibin sees Richard as the complete package at wide receiver. He said Richard fits the mold of Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson and that is going to get the attention of NFL teams in the future, which is what Richard wants.

“He set goals for himself and nothing is going to get in the way of him achieving those,” Leibin said.

Richard and his coaches learned that, along with his increase in strength, Richard has acquired the ability to casually hurdle defenders when needed, just as he did against Ole Miss for a nine-yard touchdown reception.

“That was the first time I’ve ever hurdled something in my life,” Richard said after that game.

A continuing maturation

Richard graduated from Oregon State with a bachelor’s degree in human development and family sciences. Now, he is working towards his master’s degree in sports marketing at Alabama. His parents couldn’t be more proud of him.

“He’s had to work his whole life at the educational part,” his dad said. “The sports thing he could always do, but the educational part, he’s really done very, very well in as he’s gotten older and matured and realized how important it is.”

Richard hasn’t just matured in the classroom however. He’s matured as an adult as well.

Whenever he’s home in Thousand Oaks, he takes the time to go visit Leibin and his other old coaches. He’s kept a relationship with them and also helps out any way he can even though he’s usually home during the high school’s off-season.

When Richard is away at school, he still cares.

Leibin asked Richard to write a letter to the current Thousand Oaks team before a big rival game, and he did. It meant a lot to Leibin that Richard still cares enough to take the time to do such a thing, that their relationship still means something to him.

It proved that no matter where he currently lives, Richard still cares.

“It showed that he’s definitely not a kid that’s forgotten where he’s come from,” Leibin said.

Richard’s parents have never missed one of his football games – not while he was at Oregon State and not now while he’s at Alabama. His older brother Bobby and younger sister Emily try to make as many games as they can as well. Once Michelle and her husband landed back in California after attending the Texas A&M game in College Station, Texas, Richard’s mom texted him.

“I said, ‘It seems like you’re in a really good place,’ and he goes, ‘Mom, I’m really happy here.’”

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