TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- At least a couple of times in every game, Alabama running back Trent Richardson does something to leave Crimson Tide center William Vlachos shaking his head.
Whether it's Richardson bouncing off of would-be tacklers like a pinball or running over linebackers to score a touchdown, Vlachos is never really amazed by what he sees his tailback do.
It's what Richardson does every other day of the week that surprises his teammate.
"He can run for 150 yards against the Florida Gators and he'll be in the weight room on Sunday," Vlachos said. "Then he'll go out to practice on Monday and take every carry like he's a fourth-string tailback fighting for playing time."
Forget that Richardson leads the SEC with 123.6 rushing yards per game and 17 touchdown runs heading into Saturday night's showdown between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Forget that Richardson is one of the leading candidates to win the Heisman Trophy as college football's best player, along with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
Richardson's work ethic doesn't come from a narcissistic quest to win individual awards and accolades.
It comes from a burning desire to escape what he and his family left behind.
More than anything else, Richardson said he is determined that his two young daughters won't endure the same daily struggles he had while growing up with in a housing project in Pensacola, Fla.
"I want them to grow up better than I grew up," Richardson said.
Richardson's 5-year-old daughter, Taliyah, was born during Richardson's sophomore year at Escambia High School in Pensacola. Elevera, 3, came along two years later. The girls' mother, Sevina Fatu, was a longtime girlfriend of Richardson's in Pensacola.
Sevina Fatu is from a family of famous Samoan-American professional wrestlers. Her uncle, Edward "Eki" Fatu, was known by his ring name Umaga and was a two-time World Wrestling Entertainment intercontinental champion. Several other family members were wrestlers, including her cousins, Jonathan and Joshua Fatu, who still wrestle under the ring names Jimmy and Jey Uso.
Richardson remains close to Fatu. His daughters live with his mother, Katrina, in Birmingham, Ala. Richardson sees his daughters on most weekends and they've attended many of his Alabama football games.
"They know when I miss a cut-back," Richardson said. "They know when I score a touchdown. They know what time my games start."
Richardson said Taliyah acts like a diva and Elevera is more like a tomboy.
"Elevera is the rough one," Richardson said. "She's the one that gets into a lot of stuff. She's the baby. She knows she can still get away with a lot."
It's no secret that Richardson, a junior, is probably playing his final college season. After sharing carries the past two seasons with 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, Richardson is projected as the No. 1 running back prospect for next spring's NFL draft by most analysts. ESPN's Mel Kiper projects Richardson as the third-best prospect for the 2012 NFL draft; ESPN Scouts Inc. analyst Todd McShay projects him as the fifth-best prospect.
As long as Richardson stays healthy, he figures to become a millionaire next spring if he foregoes his final college season and enters the NFL draft.
"They've got to eat," Richardson said. "I know they get happy when they see me on TV or out on the field. It keeps a smile on my face. In the long run, they won't have to want for anything at all. I could provide for my whole family."
Richardson, 5-feet-11 and 224 pounds, grew up in the Warrington Village apartments in Pensacola. Richardson said his mother worked at seafood restaurants and daycare centers and cleaned houses to make ends meet. Richardson won't say much about his father, other than that he passed away.
"It was rough," Richardson said. "I stayed up in the Village. It was tough out there. It was pretty good if you could make it to 18 out there. If you did, you were probably going to jail or getting shot."
Kartina Richardson had three biological sons, and Trent Richardson said he also had three adopted brothers.
"She was being a mom and dad when she got home," Richardson said. "I knew it was tough on her. That's one thing I don't want my kids to go through."
One of Richardson's adopted brothers, Zan Carter, lives with him and attends high school in Tuscaloosa. When Richardson's younger brother started to stray last summer, Richardson agreed to take him in.
I know they get happy when they see me on TV or out on the field. It keeps a smile on my face. In the long run, they won't have to want for anything at all. I could provide for my whole family.
--Alabama RB Trent Richardson
"I moved him down here and he got his grades right," Richardson said. "He's on track now. He's made me proud. I'm like a proud father."
Richardson, who has a 3.26 GPA in business, said sports were about the only way to escape Warrington Village. One of his older brothers, Terrell, played defensive end at Louisiana-Lafayette from 2007 to 2010.
"Me and my brother were probably the first people to make it out of there and go to college," Richardson said.
Former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith, who also grew up in a housing project in Pensacola, has become a mentor to Richardson over the past few years.
"He is a cool guy," Richardson said. "We chat sometimes. He tells me I'm doing well and to stay humble. He tells me not to let people get in my ear. He tells me to stay out of trouble."
Former boxing champion Roy Jones Jr., another Pensacola native, also has mentored Richardson. Jones has attended a handful of Richardson's games at Alabama.
"He's like a big brother to me," Richardson said.
When Richardson's oldest daughter was born, he wasn't sure what his future would be. As a freshman at Escambia High School, he underwent surgery on his left ankle. He was recovering from surgery on his right ankle when Taliyah was born in 2006.
"I was nervous," Richardson said. "I was on crutches. I just had surgery on my left ankle. The doctors told me I might not ever be able to play football again. It really slowed me down. I just knew I had to get out of Pensacola and go to college. I knew I had to keep fighting."
By his senior season at Escambia High in 2008, Richardson had emerged as one of the country's top running back prospects. He was ranked the No. 1 running back and No. 6 prospect overall by ESPN Recruiting, after running for 2,090 yards with 26 touchdowns. He broke a Florida single-game rushing record with 419 yards against Milton (Fla.) High School in 2008.
Before accepting a scholarship to Alabama in February 2009, Richardson seriously considered playing for LSU. During his official visit to LSU, Richardson said Tigers coach Les Miles' daughters, Kathryn and Macy Grace, ran off with his young daughters for most of the day. He even remembers that Miles' favorite candy is peanut M&M's.
"It was hard to tell him no," Richardson said. "That dude was too funny. He kept saying, 'Trent, you're my guy.'"
Miles knows slowing down Richardson will be a key for LSU's defense on Saturday night.
"He is not only fast, but strong and experienced," Miles said. "He has lined up against great teams and is in a position where he is ready to compete. I saw the move he did against Ole Miss [when Richardson broke three tackles and then juked a defender to score a 76-yard touchdown in the Crimson Tide's 52-7 victory on Oct. 15]. That would have thrown my hip out its joint."
Even as Richardson has become one of the country's most electrifying players, he hasn't forgotten his humble beginning. Crimson Tide tackle Barrett Jones said that's one of the reasons Richardson is good.
"I think personally it's just great to see just how humble Trent is and how he works every day," Jones said. "The thing about Trent is he's the best teammate. He definitely would have started anywhere else the past two years, but he never complained once."
On Saturday night, Richardson will be the centerpiece in one of college football's most anticipated games in years. LSU will be perhaps the biggest obstacle in Richardson ending his college career with a storybook ending. The No. 1 Tigers have one of the country's most menacing defenses, and Richardson will have to run well to take pressure off Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron.
"It just comes from the will inside you and just my passion for the game," Richardson said. "I just tell myself, 'I'm not going to let one guy take me down.'"
If Richardson needs any added motivation against LSU, he might look at his right biceps, where his daughters' names are tattooed on his arm.
"I use my girls as my inspiration," Richardson said. "If I'm not out there working, what's going to happen to them?"
Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.