MOORESVILLE, Ind. (BVM) — Zach Richards has been a star on the offensive line for Mooresville High School over the past few years. With his commitment to Purdue University locked up last spring, Richards put all his focus into one last special run with the Pioneers this fall.
Richards grew up playing football and basketball, and also took up track and field, which he has competed in since eighth grade. Although Richards cannot recall one specific moment he became instantly drawn to the gridiron, he is part of a football family, and has grown to love the team aspect of the sport throughout his years of playing.
The 6-foot-4, 290-pound offensive lineman has always excelled whether playing guard or tackle, and credits his footwork as his best attribute. Richards hopes to play in the NFL someday, and currently looks up to one of the best linemen in the league as a role model.
“The person I look up to the most is by far Quenton Nelson,” Richards said. “Being a hometown kid, liking the Colts and seeing him play each and every Sunday … He’s the best offensive guard in the league and best offensive lineman really.”
As a bigger kid than most right away, Richards always played on the offensive line, and actually entered his youth football league a year early thanks to his size. By seventh or eighth grade, the 18-year-old first began realizing that he had a lot of potential on the field.
Going into his freshman season at Mooresville, Richards was admittedly nervous. With it being current Mooresville coach Mike Gillin’s first year with the program, it allowed the entire 2021 class to grow together.
“Going into it, I was really nervous,” Richards said. “But the seniors really helped me and guided the way. I was really nervous that whole year being that young and playing against older competition. But it was definitely a great year and really good for my experience.”
Although the Pioneers went just 3-9 in 2017, the team won three of its last four contests, setting the stage for success in the future.
During Richards’ sophomore season, the Pioneers turned things around. Mooresville went an impressive 11-2, with its only regular season loss coming against rival Decatur Central.
“We made a huge progression going into my sophomore year,” Richards said. “I think everyone bought in and that’s when we started to feel pretty good. We had a lot of great players on that team.”
Mooresville would continue its success into the 2019 season, going 10-3, yet suffering another close loss to Decatur Central. Personally, Richards believes he developed more during that season than at any other point.
“I think going into my junior year is when I improved the most during my high school career,” Richards claimed.
The standout lineman had already been receiving college interest after his sophomore season. But after impressing during his junior campaign, the Division I and Power 5 offers began rolling in. The very first official offer Richards received was from Purdue. Although he received numerous offers and strongly considered other schools such as Illinois, Indiana and Cincinnati, the Boilermakers won out.
“Purdue was my very first offer,” Richards said. “They honestly kind of came out of nowhere. I didn’t go to any camps for Purdue but they just started talking to me after junior season and it kind of just all started from there.
“I just felt like Purdue was the most connected to me personally. I felt more at home and they had been there from the very start all the way to the end. I knew the coaching staff and felt very comfortable with them, and just felt more at home with Purdue.”
— Zach Richards (@Zrichy70) April 24, 2020
Richards will now have the opportunity to play for coach Jeff Brohm, who continues to turn around the Boilermakers’ program. In fact, Richards actually committed on April 24, giving Brohm a nice birthday present.
“I actually didn’t know it was his birthday the day I committed and found out after,” Richards said. “It’s pretty cool to be able to share that day with him in some way. Coach Brohm is a terrific head coach. From where Purdue was to where they are now is lightyears ahead of where they were. He and his whole coaching staff have done a terrific job and you just can’t talk enough about what he’s done and continues to do.”
While at Purdue, Richards will also get to play with former Mooresville teammate and fellow classmate, Jaelin Alstott-VanDeVanter. The 6-foot-6, 275-pound lineman — who is the second cousin of former NFL fullback Mike Alstott — did not even play competitive football until his freshman year. But the two Purdue commits have grown together, and hope to make noise at the next level for the Boilermakers.
“We’re definitely very close,” Richards said. “We got brought in together and grinding each and every day together makes us close. His potential is unmatched. He’s strong, he’s fast and doesn’t have a weakness really. His progression has been phenomenal and he’s gotten so much better since his freshman year.
“It’s great to be able to go to the same college with my high school teammate not just for us but also for Mooresville. I can’t wait to get to Purdue and do the best that I can to win every game possible.”
With his college commitment taken care of, Richards was ready to shine in his final season at Mooresville. Although fearful that their season might be canceled or postponed over the summer, Richards and his teammates played a full schedule, and they excelled.
The Pioneers finished with a 12-2 record, finally getting past Decatur Central in a close 20-14 battle. The team’s lone regular season loss came in a 41-35 affair to Whiteland, and they would fall one game short of reaching state after a tough loss to Roncalli.
“We finally beat Decatur Central and we hadn’t beaten them in 10 or 11 years so it was huge for Mooresville,” Richards noted. “Getting to semi-state for the first time in a while was great although it hurts just as bad to lose. But you have to give credit to Roncalli, they are a phenomenal program. I couldn’t ask for a better team at all, I love each and every one of them.”
Richards is also very appreciative of long time football coach Mike Gillin, who has meant a lot to him over the last four years. Gillin also gives Mooresville a bright future in the years to come.
“Coach Gillin is a phenomenal head coach,” Richards said. “Each and every guy on his coaching staff is great at what they do. I can’t speak enough about the coaches that we had this year.
“I know the younger kids are going to do great and we have a bright future at Mooresville High School. The class under us has great skill players that will be brought up and I know the offensive linemen that are behind me and Jaelin and all the other seniors will step up and do their job. Everyone should kind of be opening their eyes to Mooresville football.”
After that three-win season in his freshman year, Richards and the rest of his class compiled a 33-7 record over their final three seasons at Mooresville. With that kind of success, Richards hopes he and his teammates can be remembered for helping the program turn the corner.
“I think we left a great mark at Mooresville,” Richards added. “What our class did hasn’t been done in Mooresville in forever which is awesome.”
After hearing his name called on Friday nights, Richards will now get to hear it again on Saturdays at Ross-Ade Stadium. But his talent likely doesn’t stop there, and being able to suit up on Sundays in the NFL is the ultimate goal.
“It’s been a dream of mine to play in the NFL since I was really young,” Richards said. “I have to get better in every aspect of the game to even get close, but I know Purdue will set me up for that and it would be phenomenal to be able to play in the NFL.”