But then came CU's game against California last weekend at Folsom Field . . .
A spindly, spidery sophomore who is deceptively durable, the 6-foot-1 Richardson had been told by head coach Jon Embree and receivers coach Bobby Kennedy that "they needed a lot out of me" against Cal. "They put a lot on my shoulders; I didn't expect statistically to be a finish like that, but I expected the ball to come my way more."
The ball did. He caught it, then ran with it very, very well. While Richardson's follower (Twitter) and friend (Facebook) requests slowly began trending upward for the rest of the weekend, his close-knit family back in Gardena, Calif., offered this advice: Stay humble, kid.
For anyone else, that might have been difficult. Richardson added several eye-popping entries to CU's record book in the Buffs' gut-wrenching 36-33 overtime loss. His 11 receptions tied the school's single-game mark, and his 284 yards broke the school's single-game mark. Ten of his 11 catches went for first downs, setting a single-game record for a receiver.
Of his yardage total, 162 came after the catch - a point of emphasis for Richardson since last winter when Embree and most of his staff arrived. At almost every practice since last spring, Richardson said offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy has preached the need for second and third efforts from his receivers and running backs - and Richardson has been listening.
"I pride myself in that," he said. "Every catch I try to show extra effort and have a good finish."
Richardson caught 34 balls last season for 514 yards (15.1 average) and six touchdowns. His reception total was third on the team, trailing Scotty McKnight (50) and Toney Clemons (43). McKnight graduated as CU's career receiving leader, but Clemons has but one catch in CU's first two games this season, a trend that needs to change as defenses put more of their focus on 'P-Rich.'
"I'm going to pick up a lot of attention," Richardson admitted. "At the end of last season, when I made a few plays, the coverages started to pick up as far as bracketing me and double-covering me. I think one of the Cal DBs said they even went to double-coverage in the second half . . . so I pretty much have to expect that for the rest of the season."
Added Kennedy: "Anytime a guy has a game like that (Cal) you expect people to focus on him. I'm sure he'll get some attention . . . but the good thing about that is put other guys in single coverage. It's important for some other guys to step up. Paul's not going to have a game like that every week - but it would be nice."
To utilize Richardson to the maximum in future games, likely beginning Saturday against in-state rival Colorado State in Denver (11:30 a.m., Root Sports), the Buffs "have to be creative with him," said senior quarterback Tyler Hansen. "We're going to have to move him around, use some motion, some shifts . . . we have to be creative."
One of the reasons Richardson has started so explosively this season - he's tied for the NCAA lead in receiving yards (333) and is second in TD receptions (four) - is the off-season time spent on developing timing and chemistry with Hansen.
"It took a year to develop that," Hansen said, adding that his passing game bond with McKnight developed because "Scotty was a smart player; he knew everything about our passing game."
That same kind of bond is forming between Hansen and Richardson, who, according to Embree, is good because he's obviously talented but also because he wants to be good.
"He's improved as a route-runner, improved his body control," Embree said. "He's using speed more in bursts and knowing when to play at a different speed. He's always been a good hands catcher, not a body catcher. And he's understanding what defenses are doing and how he fits within the scheme of what we're trying to do from a passing standpoint."
Plus, Richardson has put in his due diligence with Hansen. The duo worked at least three days a week during the summer, going through "the whole route tree," Hansen said. "He's done a great job since spring, he's worked on everything. He's a complete receiver now (but) you can't coach or teach speed. He has it."
And that "it" factor has helped 'P-Rich' develop this mindset: "Don't get hit . . . so pretty much I'll run as fast as I can."
Richardson's early football career was spent playing cornerback and quarterback, and some colleges pictured him playing defense. By his admission, he was "hard-headed" in high school and "didn't take coaching to heart."
But that eventually changed and he began to take more pride in his route running, as well as studying the technical aspects of his position. That change, said Kennedy, can be credited to Richardson's still-developing maturity: "He's into it. He wants to be good, he studies it. He's more receptive to us moving him around. He's learned so much and I'm confident that he'll just keep growing."
He's already grown enough to appreciate being CU's "go-to guy" in the passing game, as well as accept the responsibilities of being a premier playmaker. He said he relishes the pressure: "I feel like the heat is on, and I like that. Having that pressure and having that leadership put on me . . . I like it. My whole life I've been a leader, so for them to put that pressure and give me that goal - the go-to guy and the playmaker - I just appreciate it."
The 2011 Rocky Mountain Showdown finds CSU unbeaten (2-0) and CU winless (0-2). For both schools, bringing those records into this game is a rarity. The Rams haven't met the Buffs with a 2-0 or better record since 1941; the Buffs haven't confronted the Rams with a 0-2 or worse mark since 1939.
Richardson realizes "a sense of urgency" in Week 3, but adds, "There has to be that every week, but there's no panic button we need to push now. We just need to come out and compete. Against Cal we showed a lot. It didn't add up at the end, but we played really, really hard. We expect nothing short of that this weekend."
CSU, he predicted, "will come out hard, but we'll come out hard. We'll have a chip on our shoulder; we're 0-2, we have no choice."
On the other hand, the Rams will have no choice but to try and contain 'P-Rich.' It's becoming one of early September's tougher assignments.