HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Four former Southern Miss Football standouts will be continuing their NFL ride as the playoffs get underway this weekend.
Pro Bowl alternate and rookie Jalen Richard will go to work with his Oakland Raiders as they travel to Houston on Saturday afternoon, where veteran Chris Clark and the Texans await. Third-year defensive tackle Khyri Thornton and the Lions play in Seattle later that night, and second-year talent Rakeem Nunez-Roches will enjoy his bye week with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Richard, an undrafted free agent in 2016, currently ranks No. 4 in the NFL for punt return yards (306), including a long of 47 at Baltimore. The Alexandria, La., native is best remembered for a 75-yard rush up the middle, the first attempt of his career, in Week One inside the Superdome. Richard is also No. 15 in the league for kick return yardage and has been the epitome of efficiency for Oakland in the ground game with 5.9 yards per carry. Going back to his time in Hattiesburg, Richard's 230 yards at Texas State in 2015 were the fourth-most in Golden Eagle history and helped him become a First-Team All-Conference USA pick.
The Raiders are in the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Richard gives Southern Miss back-to-back Pro Bowlers after Jamie Collins (then a Patriot) in 2015.
Clark has started 14 games as a tackle for the AFC South Champion Texans. He and legendary head coach Jeff Bower both ended their Southern Miss tenures in 2007. Clark, who hails from New Orleans, was named to the C-USA All-Freshman Team in 2004 and was honored by the league in 2006 and 2007, including earning captain responsibilities his senior year.
Like Richard, Clark was an undrafted free agent that ran with it. He began his career with Tampa Bay before spending two years with Minnesota and five with Denver. He is finishing his second year as a Texan.
Thornton started six games this season for Detroit and played in 13. The Panama City, Fla., product and former four-star recruit was taken in the third round of the 2014 draft by Green Bay, marking the third consecutive year a Golden Eagle was taken in the first three rounds.
Thornton was a captain his senior year (2013) and was both a C-USA All-Freshman and Second-Team honoree in his four years. Todd Monken named him a captain in his first season as the head coach, and Thornton the following spring took part in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.
Nunez-Roches has found his niche with Kansas City, playing in each of the last 11 games and starting five of them. He went to high school in Phenix City, Ala., but is a native of Dangriga, Belize, and is the first from his country to make the NFL. Nunez-Roches made his first-career start on the road against the defending-NFC champion Panthers and had four tackles. The sixth-round pick in 2015 majored in biological sciences at Southern Miss.
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