It wasn’t too long ago that he was a hard-charging running star for Economedes, so one might intuit that Ryan Richardson is just a beginner. But in the six years since leading the Jags to their only playoff trip ever by rushing for nearly 2,000 yards with 30 touchdowns, the stocky flier has turned entrepreneur, and the results are about as fantastic as the ones from his football career.

The owner and proprietor of Elite Sports Performance in McAllen, Richardson is putting into play all the things he learned about strength and conditioning, plus nutrition and performance enhancement, as the leader of an up-and-coming training school that caters to over 170 area athletes.

After playing in college for Texas A&M-Kingsville and briefly for the Dorados of the Arena Football League, the former Jag great launched a career in what he calls his passion, working with kids. Along with ESP, which began as a small business operated out of his garage in Edinburg and has grown apace, Richardson birthed a non-profit organization called the Elite Star Reach program.

The twin outfits keep the young businessman busy, but he is never too strapped for time to talk about his kids.

“We just got back from Louisiana, where we placed second in a national select-team football tournament,” he said, noting that over 150 athletes aged 13-14 tried out for the squad; a number were from his hometown, and four Edinburg youths were on the roster that went to the finals at Slidell, La. “The interest in that team was tremendous, and these are all kids are training with us at Elite Sports Performance. This thing has really been successful so far.”

Richardson was known in high school as a fitness freak with a superb physique, and he improved on speed, strength and conditioning while at Kingsville. He also picked up a lot of knowledge of the trade in college, and while there, affiliated with a number of nationally accredited training organizations.

Perhaps the key to the whole caper came when he met Tom Shaw.

“That guy has been my mentor all along, he is one of the best trainers in the world,” said Richardson, who is intent on carving out his own niche in the field. “He has worked with all the fastest guys you’ve heard of, like Deion Sanders and Calvin Johnson. I also hooked up with Nike, and that’s always a prestigious organization.”

The folks at Nike though highly enough of what the Jag ex was trying to do, that they got him onto the Sparks team, a network of athletic trainers touted as the best in the business.

“That led to me being able to coach at a Nike camp last year, and I was able to bring some of the area athletes along with me,” Richardson recalled. “As of now, my goal is to get more and more Valley football players a shot to go to college.”

Among the area kids who have taken advantage of the training and facilities ESP offers at its site on Dallas Avenue in McAllen include some names that will be familiar to followers of Valley pigskin.

One of the leading candidates is Justin Ortega, a 1,000-yard back from Rio Grande City who sliced his body fat down to 6 percent and gained 15 pounds of muscle in the process.

“That guy has really come on, we took him to a super-combine and he earned a 6-star rating with honors,” the trainer said. “He is going to play at the All-American Bowl in January, and TCU is hot after him, even though he broke his ankle as a senior this season and never really got to play that much.”

Another hopeful in the fold is Econ’s Gary Rodriguez, an oft-injured runner with excellent speed and strength. At the same combine where Ortega wowed the crowd, Rodriguez graded out to 4 stars, and will also get a chance to play in the All-American Bowl. So Richardson is high on his football kids, including Econ’s Andrew Fox, but that’s just part of the emerging story.

“About 70 percent of the clientele we have is high school football guys, but we are starting to see more interest from females lately,” Richardson said. “We’ve been lucky enough to get several great girls involved.”

One is Neshae Owens, the junior superstar hoopster from Hidalgo, and Richardson uses her as an example of what prospective clients can expect if they come to ESP.

“She improved her vertical six inches very quickly, and she has ridiculous lateral movement,” he noted. “Shae has super explosion and since she started with us, she’s been able to get better at all the tests. What we offer works.”

Richardson explains that his technique as a trainer comes from what he has learned from Shaw and the Nike people. The key is tailoring exercises and drills to the particular sport.

“You have to understand the sport, in all it aspects, before you can start,” he stressed. “Once you know what the athlete needs, then you begin with specific drills for them. The goal is to increase their speed and strength, flexibility, everything.”

While enhanced sports performance is the overall focus, the running legend is quick to clarify why he has sought to become the resident training guru in his area. Richardson grew up in a broken home and though he loves his family with all his heart, he knows that the fact that he made it in college athletics had more to do with luck and dogged effort than anything else.

“We partner with the community to get sponsorships so kids without money can be with us,” he said. “That’s what the non-profit group is all about…the kids who went to Louisiana for the football games, they went for free. I know where they are coming from, so I want to help them become successful even if they don’t come from a stable home life.”

ESP offers training sessions to Valley athletes of all ages, though Richardson began the business working mainly with professionals. He has since cycled into helping mainly pre-college players, and says that the rates he gives are more than generous.

“Kids can work with us for around 25 dollars a pop, and that is way less than the national average,” he noted. “I mean, we want to help and though we are doing very well financially, the key is to get kids into the facility at a low cost. I have controlled my overhead and done some partnering situations so that we can give the Valley a training facility that has all the best equipment, but at a fraction of the cost.”

He is also hip to the fact that often times, a venture like his is met with disdain from naysayers.

“You know how it is, people are always going to be out there criticizing you in the things you want to do,” he commented. “They try to downplay things like this, but I have dealt with that sort of thing all my life and it never stopped me, not in football or in life either. I know that this is my passion, working with kids, and we teach them how to be role models, along with the training in sports. I think this is my calling from God, to tell you the truth.”

    NOTES: To get involved with Elite Sports Performance, call Richardson at 992-0404.