Three years ago, Nate Richards was caught up in the hype and ceremonies that have become common place at countless high schools on the first Wednesday in February.
He joined a number of his Keller High School teammates in celebrating the culmination of countless hours of work in the classroom, the weight room and the practice field by signing a National Letter of Intent to accept a college scholarship to play football at Central Arkansas University.
Three years later, Richards name will again be one of those announced as signing a NLI to play college football at a Signing Day press conference, but with far less fanfare.
Coming off a season when he earned Junior College All American honors at Trinity Valley Community College, Richards signed his second NLI in December at home in front of his parents, confirming his decision to become a Rice Owl.
"It's not quite the same as the last time," Richards said recently. "That morning, we signed the letters of intent in the morning and faxed them into our schools. Our coaches were pretty good about making a big day out of it, so we did a public signing at the school. It was fun to be with everyone and be excited for all of them.
"This time it was just me and my parents at home when I signed in December. It was my Dad's job to figure out the fax machine, but he couldn't get it to work. We had to run to the Fed Ex store and get it sent off to the coaches at Rice," he laughed.
Richards, who plans to go to on to law school and study Constitutional Law, had attended Rice's Junior Day in 2008 in hopes of pursuing his athletic and academic dreams on South Main from the start.
"It didn't work for me then. The coaches said they had filled their spots for offensive linemen. I wound up signing with Central Arkansas. I redshirted my first year, but by 2010 I felt it really wasn't working out for me. I called my high school coach and he did some checking around and set me up to go to Trinity Valley, since they needed a center," he added.
Even as his season at Trinity Valley progressed, Richards was back on the recruiting trail, and this time, Richards and Rice proved to be a perfect fit.
The Owls were in need of a center, having lost the two players (Keshawn Carrington and Eric Ball) who had handled all of the snaps over the last three years. Richards, who had grown to be 6-4 and 305 pounds, and was armed with an equally impressive academic resume, was not limited in his choices the way many JC players can be, and he knew what a Rice degree would mean for his postgraduate plans.
"I knew I wanted to go to an FBS school, so I knew it was important to not let my academics slide. I only had one more chance to make this happen," he stated "They really prepared us well at Trinity to make the transition to a four-year school."
Three years ago, Richards' time following signing day was packed with the final days of high school, including a rare break from the rigors of spring practice.
This time around, Signing Day is more the official start of the final countdown to the start of spring drill for the Owls, when Richards will have a chance to stake a claim in the middle of a youthful group of offensive linemen. His schedule is filled with Winter Conditioning workouts and his first classes at Rice. No need for any additional ceremony to acknowledge what it already clear.
While the journey had a few more twists and turns than he envisioned in 2009, Richards finds himself exactly where he always he had hoped.