In May of 2008, Nu'Keese Richardson, a three-time state champion at football powerhouse Pahokee High School committed to Florida. Richardson, a QB at Pahokee most of the time, was the perfect fit for the Gators' spread offense at Florida with his blazing straight line speed and freakish quickness.
Over the next several months, what happened was nothing short of amazing. Eddie Gran, who became an assistant coach at Tennesee in early January of 2009, began calling on the heralded recruit.
Gran's name carried with it an impeccable reputation in the recruiting world in the state of Florida, so Richardson not only listened, but ended up giving the Vols a visit.
Since his commitment to Florida, Richardson had formed a friendship with fellow Florida commit Marsalis Teague of Henry County, Tennessee. Naturally, the Vol coaching staff knew when they targeted Nu'Keese, that working Marsalis would prove most beneficial, not only because Teague was a great recruit in his own right, but it would also help with Richardson.
On Signing Day, 2009, Lane Kiffin and his staff pulled off what many deemed impossible. They took two prized recruits from the National Champion Florida Gators without having played a single game.
What would follow in the next few weeks cast a shadow over not only Kiffin, but Pahokee and Richardson. Comments made in the heat of the moment and poor judgement would cast a negative light on a story of an otherwise amazingly positive young man.
Nu'Keese Richardson lost his mother when he was just eight years old. He lost his good friend and teammate, Norman "Pooh Bear" Griffith in a senseless shooting after a Homecoming dance.
One interaction with Richardson, and you will find yourself attached. This soft spoken, humble young man always has a smile on his face, and genuinely cares about anyone and everyone who crosses his path.
As a guest on my radio show, a caller called in to share an experience with Nu'Keese. The story he told was that on Richardson's visit, the staff had them attend a basketball game.
At halftime, Richardson made his way to the concourse to grab a drink and snack, and was stopped by the caller's little boy. Richardson proceeded to spend the next 15 minutes, talking with the boy and his father about anything and everything, making a lasting impression on the child he would never forget.
"The Muck", as Pahokee is known, can be a rough place. Some people have hard edges, walk around with an attitude that is justified by a large portion of the community having a tough go of life.
Spend five minutes there or talking to someone from there, and it's easy to understand how easy it would be to not be a positive person coming from that part of the world. Not Nu'Keese.
Meeting him for the first time face to face, we chatted for a minute, and I ended our conversation with a harmless, "Stay out of trouble." Richardson laughed, he said "I've worked to hard to get here, I'm blessed, I'm not doing anything I'm not supposed to do."
Besides capturing you with his personality, Richardson does plenty to capture your imagination with his abilities. Reports out of the voluntary workouts this Spring saw everything from, "you can't overthrow him," to, "some of the guys are amazed at his quickness."
Richardson isn't an imposing figure. At about 5'9" and 165 pounds, he doesn't "look" like much, but this kid is tough, fast, and determined. Every day he wakes up, he reminds himself there's always work to be done and speaks of being on his "grind."
As of today, the Tennessee coaching staff is working Nu'Keese in some special packages at quarterback. Who knows how much they'll use it, that's not really what matters. What matters is recognizing the gifted athlete he is, and that the staff will do whatever they can to take advantage of it.
The Vols signed a great class in 2009, considering the circumstances especially. Vol fans should root for all Vols, but when you watch Nu'Keese, try and think of his story. The courage it takes to grow up with only memories of your mother, the agony of losing a good friend at such a young age, the frustration of living in a place where it's easy to lose hope.
Think about a kid with no attitude problem, who works hard, who takes time for anyone and everyone he can. Most importantly, think about a young man who finds a way to smile at a life that hasn't smiled at him, and what kind of person it takes to do just that. Then clap a little harder, and yell a little louder.
Nu'Keese Richardson is a great story, and it's only going to get better. Everyone could do well to look at his life experiences and follow his example of perseverance, toughness and attitude, and we would all come out better in the end.
Richardson will not only stand out on the field for the Vols, but he stands out off the field as well. His height and weight will never tell the story of the actual size of the person Nu'keese is, you kind of just have to experience for yourself.
From "The Muck" to "The Hill", Richardson's journey continues, and we should all watch with great interest, because he won't be in Knoxville long enough.
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