One of Braves’ best says goodbye
Some people are born athletes. Nathaniel Richins, a three-sport Academic All-State recipient who led North Summit’s football team to a state runner-up finish, started for the state championship basketball team and was the 300-meter hurdle champion in track meet is not one of them.
"He was born two months prematurely and needed a ventilator for two weeks," said his mother, Reagan Richins. Doctors told her and her husband, Kurt, that their son would likely struggle in school and suffer hearing or vision problems because of heavy oxygen exposure from the ventilator.
Reagan said she braced herself for what might lie ahead, prepared to give her son the extra attention he might need. But as Nathaniel grew older, she quickly recognized a perceptive mind and self-motivation that proved to her he could accomplish anything he set his mind to. And as the 18-year-old’s achievements have shown, she would not have to worry about the doctors’ warnings.
Nathaniel graduated on Thursday one of the most accomplished student-athletes in North Summit High School’s history, earning a 3.95 GPA and garnering Academic All-State honors in varsity football, basketball and track. He also graduated with an Associate’s degree, an achievement that required additional coursework on top of his high school studies.
"I’d have to look back a long time to find someone who has done what he’s done to the extent that he has," said North Summit athletic director Brett Richins, a cousin of Kurt Richins’ who also taught Nathaniel in a welding class. "Very seldom can you get a kid who can do both sides. To me the most prestigious award he has is the Academic All-State. It’s not easy to get, and that he did it three times is really special."
Nathaniel showed early academic talent, but his future as an athlete was not immediately apparent. The premature birth slowed his growth during childhood, making competition with his peers somewhat of a struggle. He was too small to play with kids his own age in the regular youth football league, so he played "down" on a lighter team, working hard to improve every aspect he could.
"He knew size was his main disadvantage, and he couldn’t change that," Reagan said. "So he focused on strength and quickness. He already made an impact with just that, so when he finally caught up to the size of the other kids it was an added bonus."
Nathaniel’s first glimpse of his full athletic potential came his sophomore year in basketball, when he started playing off the varsity bench. He made the starting lineup as a junior and led the team to a state championship his senior year, a victory Nathaniel said was the highlight of his high school career.
"We’d been playing together since fourth grade," he said of his team. "We always joked about making it to state, so it was really cool to win."
Nathaniel ran his first season of track to keep fit his junior year, starting the hurdles in mid-season. The rookie placed fifth at state in the 300-meter hurdles and would win the event the following year.
But the athlete says his favorite sport is football. The fight he showed at the state championships, in which the Braves lost in the final seconds, revealed his fierce competitiveness and sensitivity to his role on a team, Reagan Richins said. He had wanted to help the other players badly, and the loss devastated him.
"One of the coaches said he could see it on his face when the clock was running out — part of Nathaniel died in front of him that day. That’s how much he cared."
Nathaniel said competing for a team inspires him more than reaching personal goals. "It’s a better drive, to do what you need to for the team," he said.
After graduation, Richins will serve an LDS mission before accepting a scholarship at Utah State University. He then plans to attend medical school.
Richins said he is excited to move on but will miss competing in sports, not that he plans on tossing aside his active lifestyle. The athlete has recently taken up golf and loves to hunt and water ski.
Summit County and Park City’s elected leaders celebrated Earth Day by attending the signing of the Community Renewable Energy Act.