Three years ago, Paul Richardson stood outside of the locker room at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., and was grilled by reporters wondering if he was coming back to Colorado for his sophomore year.

With all the uncertainly surrounding the CU program -- head coach Dan Hawkins had been fired three weeks earlier and nobody knew who would coach the team in 2011 -- the star wide receiver wasn't sure what he was going to do.

Now, the circumstances are vastly different, but Richardson's facing the same question. Will he come back to the Buffaloes next year?

Once again, he's unsure.

"The reality of it is I am in my fourth year and (going to the NFL) is something I'm going to have to think about, I know," he said. "More so why I haven't really given it a lot of thought is because I don't want to think about it. That's taking a big step."

Going to the NFL is an attractive option for Richardson, though. Even if he's taken in the middle to end of the draft, he stands to take home a nice paycheck next year if he does go pro. Several players taken in the third round this past April got more than $600,000 in guaranteed money, with a 2013 salary nearly the half-million mark. Late-round picks often get six-figure signing bonuses.

Richardson will graduate in May with a degree in communications; he will finish this season with a pile of school records; and he's got plenty of smart people around him telling him he's got the ability to go pro.

"I think I've put together a pretty decent body of work here," he said.

If the Buffs are lucky, Richardson will decide he's got more to do in Boulder.

The 21-year-old from Los Angeles has come a long way since that day in Lincoln. His leadership on and off the field this season has meant about as much to the Buffs as his game-breaking ability.

"Him being a senior and having another year as a captain would be invaluable for our football team," head coach Mike MacIntyre said. "His leadership in the summer and all of that type of thing would be really big, especially with our freshman quarterback (Sefo Liufau) going into his sophomore year -- to know that he has P-Rich there would be a big deal. It would be good for our football team, there's no doubt."

Richardson's out-of-this world talent is evident. He's putting up numbers that few players in program history have ever touched.

What sets Richardson apart, however, and what would make him so valuable to the rebuilding Buffaloes in 2014, is that he loves thisteam.

"He truly does care about team, and he truly does care about doing the right things on the field, off the field," MacIntyre said. "That's important to him to be a leader. It's not just important that he catches a lot of balls. He truly wants to do whatever he needs to do to help the team win.

"He does want to help the University of Colorado kind of get back up on the map, and I think he's helped us. Of course, me being a selfish coach, another year would really help us."

Richardson speaks highly of his former mentor and CU great Scotty McKnight, who, in 2010, taught Richardson how to be a leader. He talks about building relationships with some of the men whose records he is breaking, including Michael Westbrook and Charles E. Johnson.

Richardson also raves about receivers coach Troy Walters, who was an All-American at Stanford in 1999 and won the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's best receiver, each season.

"Each and every day I come out here, I try to develop my craft to try to be excellent and live up to what he's done," Richardson said. "I've just appreciated being coached by him. That's helped me become a better leader."

Richardson has had that kind of impact on his teammates this fall and would only help them with his return in 2014.

There's a good chance, though, that Richardson, like 15 of his senior teammates, played his last game at Folsom Field on Saturday. That thought crossed his mind this week.

Of course, Richardson has also thought about what another year in Boulder could mean to him and the Buffs.

"When you don't win, like us, you can either fall apart or you can come together," he said. "We've done a great job of coming together and I think in the near future we're going to start seeing the success and what we've built together."

Richardson may be unsure about what he's going to do, but this much is clear: CU's chances of succeeding in 2014 will be greater if he comes back.

The Buffs can only hope he makes the same choice he made three years ago.