BRISTOL, Va. – For most high school football players, Saturday morning is a time for recuperation and relaxation.
Twins Wyatt and Gage Richard follow a different schedule.
The Virginia High seniors assist their parents with the family-run Glenmary Gardens farm in Bristol, Virginia. With healthy options such as tomatoes, squash and peppers to melons and apples, the Richard boys are regulars at farmers markets in Bristol, Abingdon and Blountville.
“We usually get up by 6 on Saturday morning to help display produce and work at our booth,” Gage said. “I like getting to know our customers and build connections. It’s a routine for us.”
According to VHS head football coach Mike Crist, the sort of work ethic found on vegetable fields and in greenhouses carries over to the football field.
“Gage and Wyatt are reliable kids who are fun to coach,” Crist said. “They’re just old-school football players with no egos who enjoy playing the game and getting the job done.”
Wyatt is a 5-foot-11, 215-pound warrior who is entering his third year as a regular on the offensive line. For this guy, the payoff in athletics is not about headlines and highlights.
“You often see athletes looking for praise, but I don’t like distractions,” said Richard, who doubles as a middle linebacker. “I’m just out here to help my team through hard work.”
The goal during preseason practice for Wyatt has been to put on weight.
“I lost around 25 pounds during wrestling season,” Wyatt said. “I’ve been wrestling since eighth grade and I love everything about the sport.”
From leverage to endurance, Wyatt credits his grueling sessions in the wrestling room with Bearcats coach Josh Shuler for his success in football.
“Coach Shuler has some crazy workout programs and I’m always sweating through those,” Wyatt said. “Wrestling helps in football in several ways, especially with balance. In both sports, I like to find a weakness in my opponent and then use the right moves.”
Wyatt, who will start at center this season, is one of just four returning starters on offense for the Bearcats.
Gage, a 5-foot-8, 170-pound scrapper who is in contention for the starting quarterback position, never has to search for his motivational muse.
“I’ve loved the quarterback positions since the second grade, but I’ve always been told that I was too short and too slow, or that I couldn’t get the ball out quick enough,” Gage said. “I can’t change my size, so I’ve focused on changing the attitudes of people and then going from there.”
The Richard twins were born in Bristol but lived in New Hampshire for over three years before returning home in 2009. While their northern accents remain, Wyatt and Gage appreciate the lifestyle in far Southwest Virginia.
“We love the culture and the football here,” Wyatt said. “Since a young age, the belief has been instilled in my brother and I that you have to work for anything we want. We’re all about discipline and effort.”
As for a football role model, Gage admires another quarterback who overcame long odds and doubters.
“I saw Tom Brady of [New England[ Patriots in practice once and he’s been my favorite player ever since,” Gage said. “I like the feeling of control and responsibility that goes with quarterback. Competing for a position and with a team helps prepare you for all aspects of life.”
While his brother strives to gain weight, Gage has been on a mission to improve his body through wiser sleeping and eating habits.
“I’m taking a lot of things more serious for my senior season,” said Gage, also a member of the VHS wrestling team. “I try to make sure that I sleep eight hours and I’m eating healthier foods. I like avocadoes, strawberries and apples.”
That sort of dedication carries over to the classroom where Wyatt and Gage are both honor students. Wyatt said he has already found an internship with a real estate business in Utah next year.
The immediate goals for the twins include guiding VHS to a winning season in football and helping the family farm prosper.
“Trust me, we know the value of hard work,” Wyatt said. “Dad is looking to expand his greenhouse and grow his business on a regional level.”
So will the brothers be making more Saturday morning appearances at local farmer’s markets?
“We’re always pushing each other,” Gage said. “We just have a lot things we want to do and accomplish. Right now, the challenge is football and we’re prepared.”