Antonio Richardson didn't become "Tiny" overnight. The evolution of his nickname began when he was 15.
"Biggy Smalls" was the first suggestion from his high school teammates. They quickly decided that was too long and shortened it to "Smalls," which later was replaced with "Big Tiny."
"It started to escalate," said the Tennessee offensive tackle, who was a star player at Ensworth before transferring to Pearl-Cohn after seven games his senior season. "Everybody in Nashville started to call me 'Tiny.' ''
He liked the moniker so much, he had it tattooed on his back. His nickname now assured, Richardson is looking to make a name for himself.
Tennessee fans won't have to remember his jersey number to recognize him. At 6-foot-6, 332 pounds, the sophomore will be the biggest guy on the offense.
While he already looks the part of an NFL lineman, he doesn't assume he can shove his way into pros on size alone. So he studies his craft, including those who practice it at the highest level.
Tennessee coaches asked players this offseason to select several NFL players at their position and figure out what makes them good at their job. That was easy for Richardson.
He first noticed Jake Long while watching the 2008 NFL draft in which the Michigan offensive tackle was taken first by the Miami Dolphins. "Amazing" came to mind when Richardson watched Long's highlight package. He picked up on something else, too.
"His body build was a lot like mine," Richardson said. "Really long, big hands, broad shoulders."
Long's pro career is worth emulating as well: four years in the NFL, four Pro Bowls.
Tyron Smith, a second-year offensive tackle with the Dallas Cowboys, also has gotten Richardson's attention.
"Tyron Smith is a really athletic guy," Richardson said. "He got into The League because he's good at pass protection. That's what I eventually want to be able to do."
A reporter asked Rich
ardson for "his weight-room measurables," prefacing the question by saying fans would want to know. Richardson was quick to accommodate: 460 pounds in the bench press, 535 or 540 in the squat, 33 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press.
Another reporter asked if he thought it was odd that fans wanted to know that.
"No, I don't," he said. "As a kid, the guys I looked up to ... I wanted to know everything about them. And if someone I looked up to did something that was demeaning to their character, it hurt me."
Now, he realizes he could be someone else's role model.
"When you're off the field, it's all about setting an example," he said. "When you're on the field, you turn it on.
"My father always told me to be a gentleman on the field. But if somebody tries you as a man, you address it."
Adhering to a gentleman's code wasn't so easy for a 10-year-old living in the projects. Richardson said kids wanted to challenge "the big guy." And even then, he was the big guy.
"When I lived in the projects, we used to get in fights a lot," he said. "Growing up, I had some anger-management issues. As I got older, I learned to control my aggressiveness."
He has learned to channel that aggressiveness in football.
He also has learned to embrace the team concept of the offensive line, which he insists will be improved over last season.
"Experience and the mind-set," he cites as reason for that improvement. "We want to make a difference.
"We really want to do something special."
John Adams is a senior columnist. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns