RollTide.com will be posting Q&As with members of the Crimson Tide track & field teams throughout the season so fans can get to know the student-athletes competing for the Tide. This week, we visit with junior sprinter Jereem Richards. The Port Fortin, Trinidad & Tobago native is in his first season with Alabama after transferring from South Plains College in Levelland, Texas. Richards won the 200 meters at the SEC Indoor Track & Field Championships in February and broke the school record in the 200 at the NCAA Championships on March 11. He also anchored the Tide's 4x400-meter relay squad to a school record time on Feb. 25.
When did you begin sprinting?
Jereem Richards: I started running track and field at probably eight, in what we would call primary school. That was in 2000 or 2001. I tried cricket, and I wasn't really that good at it. It is similar to baseball in that you use a bat and ball. I liked soccer but I really wasn't good at it when I was young, I did get better at it as I got older though. I remember we had this trial to see who could run and represent the school, and I was one of the fastest kids there, so that is what pulled me to track and field.
When did you realize that you could compete at the collegiate level, and come to the United States for college?
JR: Trinidad & Tobago is really small and at a young age I made a lot of the senior teams instead of running on the junior teams so I was exposed to a lot of senior running and training. I was recruited by some Division I schools but I needed to go the junior college route first because I was missing some classes. What made me really think about going to a D1 college was that I could get an education in the United States and I could run against some of the best athletes in the world, because the college system is where everyone begins.
How was the transition from South Plains College to Alabama?
JR: It actually wasn't that hard because South Plains is really known to be one of the biggest junior colleges in the NJCAA. Basically, South Plains beat a lot of the Division I schools, so it wasn't a really big transition. Coming to a Division I school, you learn to appreciate what you have here vs. what you didn't have at the junior college level. It's way better here than it was in junior college.
Did you know anything about Alabama before transferring here?
JR: To be honest, Alabama was probably the last place I thought I would end up. It was nowhere on my radar but then my coach from South Plains came here, Blaine Wiley. My last year at South Plains was also his last year there and when he left for Alabama, I thought 'I ran well with him for the past two years, I might as well do it for four.' That was a really big reason why I came here. I was being recruited by several SEC and Big 12 schools and Alabama. By far, Alabama was the best. It has the best facilities. I love the campus here; the campus is big but it is also small. It is big enough for you to explore, but it's compact enough for you to know where you are. That is what I really liked about it, compared to the other schools that I visited.
Is Alabama what you expected it to be?
JR: Yes, it's exactly how it was on the visit. No one changed, no one put up a front. You know when you go and visit some places, people are just going to be nice to you because they want you to come to their school. But here, they were actually nice, genuine and real.
What are the top three things you like about Alabama?
JR: Number one, I would say I can call everyone here family. I like the feeling, just going out there and knowing we can support each other like a family. Number two, the weather. I know it can be rough sometimes, but for the most part it is better from where I was. It never gets too cold, and never gets too hot – well it gets hot sometimes. But what I like about it, is the weather is manageable, even though it can be unpredictable sometimes, for the most part the weather is good here. And the third thing, is that I love the way the people here take pride in the school. Anything to do with sports, and anything to do with the school, they go all out and support each other. I really respect that because, just even seeing during football season, you can go somewhere around here and say 'Roll Tide!' once and everyone responds. That is something big for me, I respect that and I love how everyone respects that.
Speaking of school spirit, did you have fun during your first football season here?
JR: Yes! Football was a new thing to me because we don't play that back home. This was the first time I got to go to games throughout the season, it was a new experience and I loved it.
What were your top three goals coming into the University of Alabama and this season?
JR: Coming into Alabama, I just wanted to go out there and do my best, represent Alabama, portray a good figure for the school, and just go out there and win. What is the sense of a competition if you're not trying to win? I am not going to be disappointed if we don't win, but the main purpose of this all is to win.
Reflecting on what you have done so far; do you think you've accomplished any of your personal goals?
JR: Thus far, I think I am on the right path. Winning SECs was something really big for me. I want to thank God for that because without him I don't know how I was going to do it. So yeah, I do think I am on the right path so far, I just want to try to stay focused and put the SECs and NCAAs and everything that happened before behind me because sometimes you can get caught up in the hype. I am just trying to get refocused and get back out there to execute again and never lose faith in the plan.
During the indoor season, you set personal bests and school record times and won an SEC title in the 200 meters. How does that feel knowing that you have accomplished all this in just the first half of your first season at Alabama?
JR: It makes me really excited because I feel like I can do a little bit better. I feel gracious because I prayed about this a lot, there were times where I questioned if I was ready. In track and field, if you don't run you're not really sure where you are at, so at times I was scared. I would think to myself 'I didn't feel that great at practice today' or 'I'm not sure where I am at right now.' But then you run and see where you are and know what you need to work on. Overall, it's been a great feeling to run against great competition this season.
Track and field has taken you around the world, and you are only 21. Did you ever imagine the sport would make that possible?
JR: I never thought I would be anywhere in this world except for my home country. Trinidad & Tobago is one country, but two islands. My first trip to Tobago was the biggest thing because I had never left Trinidad. It's literally a 15-minute flight from Trinidad to Tobago, or 2 hours on a boat, so just to go there to see my family was a big deal for me. When I started to run track & field the first country I got to go to was the Dominican Republic. I just sat down and thought, 'Wow, you're actually going somewhere.' I didn't travel much when I was younger, it was something that you could possibly do when you got older if it was something you were interested in. I never thought track and field could take me this far. I've been to France, Spain, Turkey, all these different places. I just want to be thankful and gracious to God, without this gift he has given me. I would have never made it to the US. I never thought at the age of eight that I would travel to all these different counties? It has been such a blessing to be able to travel all over the world doing something I love.
How was your experience at the Olympics in Rio over the summer?
JR: Rio this year was a really great experience. I had a rough season last season, I had to sit out and was competing back home unattached. I had injuries and I didn't have the facilities that I needed to perform the way I wanted to, but I had to make it work because you have to struggle sometimes. When I started Alabama, I came here and was injured a little bit. They fixed me up good enough so I could compete and I ended up making the Trinidad & Tobago Olympic team for the 4x4. It was a great experience; I was an alternate so I didn't get to compete. However, just being there, it made me hungry. I got to see big athletes, like Usain Bolt. It sparked something inside of me that made me feel that I could be up there at the same level as these guys that I could compete with. Although I didn't get to compete, it made me hungry and want it more. So for the next Olympics, I want to compete and I cannot wait. I have said this in an interview before, but I think every athletes main purpose should be to an Olympian. The Olympics is the biggest track meet in track & field, and no one can take that away from you when you get there. It was such a great experience; it was honestly overwhelming.
I was there for three weeks. They usually take us there two weeks before the competition so you can get adjusted to the climate and the weather and everything like that. For three weeks, we practiced a lot, ate the food – we had to get accustomed to the food they had there. The food was alright; after the first week you were tired of it but they also had free McDonald's. That was the good thing, you could just walk to McDonald's and get whatever you wanted. You could go over there and ask for 20 Big Macs and they will give it to you. I took like 15 fries.
The opening ceremony was honestly… I cannot even describe how good that was. You have to be there to understand how great it is, you see all the countries and performances, it is just incredible. I remember watching the Opening Ceremony on TV when I was younger. That was a great experience, but being there, words cannot even describe how great it was.
If you could go back in time and tell your younger self any advice about being a sprinter or even just about life in general, what would it be?
JR: Knowing what I know now, I would tell myself to never lose focus. I remember there was this one time that I was just getting beat by everyone in track & field, and I stopped running for a season because I wasn't winning at all, I was coming in last at every race I ran. I started to play soccer and I started to get kind of good in soccer too. But I kept telling myself to not give up, and I didn't because I started back. But, it could have been more beneficial to me I guess.
I would also say that, once again, get more serious with God. I talked to my aunt this morning, and she was telling me how you don't know how many things you can be thankful for.. Like just waking up this morning, or the air we breathe or it just being sunny today. She was telling me to be more thankful for the little things that we have, because you never know what is going to happen if you aren't.