Hurricanes WR Ahmmon Richards’ neck injury ends playing career

Miami wide receiver Ahmmon Richards will no longer be allowed to play football because of a disabling neck injury.
Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Miami wide receiver Ahmmon Richards‘ career is effectively over because of a disabling neck injury that will make playing football a too high-risk proposition for him going forward.

Miami announced the news Sunday, without revealing the exact nature of the injury or how it happened. The announcement came one day after the 16th-ranked Hurricanes rallied to win their annual rivalry game with Florida State.

Richards spent that game on the sideline, jumping and celebrating with teammates as Miami pulled off its biggest comeback win since 2003.

That will be his role going forward. Richards’ career ends with 74 catches for 1,382 yards and six touchdowns.

“I’m extremely appreciative of the university’s athletic training and medical staffs for diagnosing this injury, and to the football coaches and staff for always putting my health first,” Richards said in a statement distributed by the school. “I plan to continue working towards my degree at UM and look forward to the next chapter in my life.”

Richards will remain on scholarship at Miami.

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“While we share in Ahmmon’s disappointment that his football career is over, his health must be the top priority,” Miami coach Mark Richt said.

Richards becomes the second prominent Miami player to see his career end with a neck injury in less than a year. Malek Young’s final game was in last season’s Orange Bowl, where a helmet-to-helmet collision left him in need of surgery that stabilized the C1 and C2 vertebrae at the top of his neck — and doctors later told the cornerback that he was extremely lucky to have avoided full paralysis.

Young walked off the field after that hit, not immediately aware of the severity. And now Richards is dealing with a similar matter.

“Our faculty and staff can attest to his good-natured personality and remarkable maturity,” officials at Wellington High School, Richards’ alma mater in Palm Beach County — about an hour north of Miami — said in a statement posted to Twitter. “Ahmmon’s future prospects remain bright, and we will continue to root for him.”

It is a devastating blow for both Richards and the Hurricanes. Richards has long been touted as a future NFL player, someone who many thought would consider forgoing his final season of eligibility and turning pro after this season.

No freshman in the country had more receiving yards two years ago than Richards, who piled up 934 on 49 catches in 2016 — breaking the Miami freshman record that had been held by Michael Irvin. Richards was dogged last season by leg injuries that kept him off the field for about half the year and limited his numbers when he was out there, and he had just one reception for nine yards in Miami’s season opener against LSU last month.

That was his final appearance.

Richards had been listed as out on Miami’s injury report since, though initially with a bone bruise in his knee.

“Ahmmon, he’s a competitor,” Miami safety Jaquan Johnson said earlier this season. “Everybody knows he’s an elite athlete, a speedster. What they don’t understand is how he lays out for the team, how he’s always trying to block you, how he’s trying to put you into the ground. He’s got that competitive spirit in him.”

Richards’ diagnosis came on a weekend filled with wild emotional swings for Miami (5-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), which rose one spot to No. 16 in the AP Top 25 poll that was released Sunday.

The Hurricanes trailed Florida State 27-7 in the third quarter before rallying for a 28-27 win — the biggest comeback by either program in the 63-game rivalry and Miami’s biggest rally against anyone since coming from 23 points down to beat Florida in 2003. Saturday’s win was Miami’s first at home over the rival Seminoles since 2004, sparking a massive celebration on the field when time expired and in the locker room afterward.

And then the Richards news was made public shortly after the final whistle, first reported by The Miami Herald citing a source. Richards retweeted a video of the locker room celebration Saturday night, with his own caption of “Last time … mixed emotions.”

It made a huge win for Miami seem, at best, bittersweet.

“From the HEART I appreciate all of my fans,” Richards tweeted.