Pelini: ‘Humble’ Richmond wants to put past behind him
By Brian Dzenis
Ma’lik Richmond has the trust of Youngstown State football coach Bo Pelini – but it comes with a caveat.
“I believe in him, but I told him, ‘I’ll hold your feet to the fire,’” Pelini said before the start of fall practice on Thursday. “He has to do it better and cleaner than the next guy.”
Richmond was involved in one of Ohio high school football’s biggest scandals. He was one of two former Steubenville football players found delinquent in the sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl.
The sophomore defensive end enrolled at YSU as a student last August and walked on to the team in January, according to sports information director Trevor Parks.
Pelini said he did his own investigation of Richmond’s past and the decision to bring him on was his alone. He got a tip from someone in Steubenville that Richmond was on YSU’s campus as a student during the 2016 season. He called Richmond’s high school coach, Reno Saccoccia, to confirm it.
“[Saccoccia] told me he was [at YSU], but that Ma’lik wasn’t looking to play football at the time,” Pelini said.
Pelini said he took some time in 2016 to vet Richmond. Some of it involved reading up on the infamous case itself. It also involved speaking with some of his Steubenville contacts from his time recruiting the area. Not long after YSU lost to James Madison in the Football Championship Subdivison national championship game, he met Richmond face to face.
“The kid is humble and he wants to put [his past] behind him,” Pelini said.
Pelini said he isn’t always quick to hand out second chances.
“Every case is different. You have to listen to their story to see if they are genuine,” Pelini said. “Gosh, when I was at Nebraska I got rid of a lot of kids. Some of them weren’t even given a second chance.”
After Richmond was released from a juvenile detention facility in 2014, he played his senior season at Steubenville, but did not pursue a college football career. He attended both Potomac State College of West Virginia University and California University of Pennsylvania and representatives from both schools told The Vindicator that Richmond completed his time in both places without incident.
“I thought it was smart that he was willing to put football aside,” Pelini said. “He knows he has to earn this and he didn’t come here to play.”
Pelini said he will not make Richmond available to the media until he appears in a game, per his rules regarding underclassman players. When that will happen is unclear. He’s been with the team for its offseason strength program, but hasn’t played a down of football since 2014.
Pelini is also playing him out of position — he was a linebacker in his Big Red days — and during the first day of practice, Richmond lined up alongside the reserve players.
Because Richmond’s priorities aren’t related to football, Pelini ultimately decided he can wear No. 96 at Stambaugh Field despite his baggage.
“He’s been going to school. He’s been here as a student. He’s proved he can be part of the student community,” Pelini said.