CONWAY -- There is an unmissable scar on the outside of Christian Richmond's right leg.
For the past two seasons, it's been hidden under a bulky knee brace -- the last reminder of the devastating injury that ended his sophomore season at the University of Central Arkansas.
Richmond, a senior wide receiver, tore three ligaments and had a partially torn hamstring after making a cut during a practice in the 2020 season.
Since then, he's recovered from that injury but dealt with multiple minor ones, like the ones that held him to nine games in the 2021 season and six in 2022.
For the first time since before the initial injury, Richmond practiced brace-free Thursday as the Bears opened preseason workouts.
"Nobody's had more adversity in their college career than Christian Richmond," Central Arkansas Coach Nathan Brown said. "For him to be where he's at, it's a perfect story for a lot of our young players to see or maybe some of our injured guys right now that are on the sidelines, you know, down in the dirt because they're not able to be out there with their teammates. So that's a perfect example. That's a testimony of what it looks like, where work ethic can get you. Christian is fast with a knee brace on, but he's real fast without one."
"I definitely feel like this would be my best season yet," Richmond said. "You know, I prepared a lot during the offseason without the brace, so I feel really comfortable without it. I've been working on being a lot more consistent with just everything that I do."
Any day now
The one notable absence from UCA's drills Thursday was wide receiver Jarrod Barnes.
The senior receiver from Cabot dressed for practice but was sidelined as he is in the final days of recovery from a arthroscopic knee surgery on his left knee at the beginning of summer workouts.
Barnes led the Bears last season with 708 receiving yards and 5 touchdown receptions and was tied for the team lead with 40 catches.
Coach Nathan Brown said Barnes is healthy and ready to rejoin his teammates as soon as UCA receives a written clearance.
"Getting him out there is going to add another element, another weapon, especially in the wide receiver room," Brown said. "So we'll be excited to get Jarrod out there.
"You see the talent there. But getting Jarrod in that room and on the field is a whole different dynamic."
Whenx Central Arkansas Coach Nathan Brown brought back Greg Stewart for his second tenure as UCA's defensive coordinator in June, there were bound to be some changes to a Bears defense that allowed 421.2 yards and 31.9 points per game last season.
One of the first moves was to switch all-conference defensive ends David Walker and Logan Jessup in an attempt to better utilize Walker's athleticism.
The next move was to move Jake Golday to middle linebacker. Golday, a 6-4 sophomore from Arlington, Tenn., shared time at the position last season, totaling 37 tackles with 5.5 for loss.
On Thursday, Golday consistently saw time with the first-string defense during the Bears' 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 drills.
Time at the linebacker spot next to Golday was split between Kendarrius Moore, a junior from West Memphis who has played in eight games over three seasons, and Demetrius Charles, UCA's second-leading tackler last season with 87.