By JOHN ZENOR
AP Sports Writer
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Trent Richardson was awake until the wee hours in New Orleans, chatting up girls.
It's not how it sounds. Alabama's star tailback was on the phone with his daughters until about 1:30 a.m. Friday. When it comes to 5-year-old Taliyah and 3-year-old Elevara, college football's battering ram turns into an unabashed softy, even when it means pushing back bedtime.
"I spoil them," Richardson said. "Those are my little hearts."
They sport his No. 3 jerseys, talk to him on the phone before every game and kiss the TV screen when they see daddy. His choice of bowl gifts: a computer so they can chat with him on Skype.
This proud papa leads with the heart when it comes to his girls. He's more likely to come at LSU with his shoulders lowered and legs churning Monday night in the BCS title game, dishing out punishment to anyone in his way.
The Tigers (13-0) already know that. They spent a Saturday night in November wrestling with him in what ended in the next-closest thing to a stalemate.
"It's horrible," Tigers defensive tackle Michael Brockers said. "After the game, my neck was hurting, shoulders, everything. Just hitting a brick wall constantly. He gets the ball a lot so you've got to hit him a lot. You can't really explain just hitting him and how solid he really is.
"He's a solid guy. He refuses to go to the ground."
Richardson, a junior who is contemplating entering the NFL draft this spring, is Alabama's biggest threat on an offense, where the only other stars are lead blockers like Barrett Jones and William Vlachos.
He won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back, and was third in the Heisman Trophy voting after rushing for 1,583 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Only Tim Tebow (23) has rushed for more TDs in the SEC. Richardson matched the league's No. 2 in that category, Cam Newton.
He didn't have a Heisman moment in that touchdown-free overtime defeat to LSU, but his stat line was pretty solid against the nation's second-ranked defense. The 5-foot-11, 224-pounder ran 23 times for 89 yards and caught five passes for another 80.
In the process, he earned a healthy measure of respect.
"Trent Richardson is the best running back in the world," defensive end Sam Montgomery said.
Added safety Brandon Taylor: "It's like hitting a truck that ain't going to move. You've just got to buckle up and hit him and wait for the rest of the defense to get there."
Teammates have marveled at Richardson's weight-lifting prowess and coaches have praised his work ethic since he arrived in 2009 as one of the nation's most coveted tailbacks.
He spent two seasons backing up -- or, he prefers, playing alongside -- 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram without apparent complaint. Richardson also ran for 109 yards and two touchdowns against Texas in the national title game to finish off his freshman season.
"I can't tell you enough about Trent," Tide offensive coordinator Jim McElwain said. "He might be one of the most unselfish players I've been around. He's a true team guy. He's a joy to coach because he takes practice as seriously as he takes the games. The great ones are the ones that know how to practice and how to play, and he's one of those."
He is, after all, the guy who used to regularly do calf-burning runs up a steep sand dune in his hometown of Pensacola, Fla. And Richardson says he arrived bench pressing 475 pounds with a 600-pound squat.
Strength coach Scott Cochran placed photos of Richardson on the wall of the team's weight room, alongside those of Ingram and fellow NFL first-round picks Julio Jones and Marcell Dareus.
No names needed. Just action shots.
"It's just the guys that outwork everybody else," Cochran said. "You see it on a daily basis."
Richardson said part of his motivation comes from being "a child raising a child."
His mother and two daughters are living in Birmingham, about an hour from Tuscaloosa. He says Taliyah and Elevara have only been able to make it to two games this season while spending time with their ailing maternal grandfather.
"I really had to just grow up and be a man," he said. "You're either going to be a man or you're going to be one of those guys that don't see your child a lot. I don't want to be one of those guys. I love my kids to death and I would be in pain if I was not able to see them or to be in their life.
"For me to just be one of those young fathers out there, it really just humbled me a lot."
AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta contributed to this report.