INDIANAPOLIS — When Anthony Richardson thinks about his mother walking into her new home, the emotions flow.
His wide eyes reveal the satisfaction of giving his mom something meaningful after all she did to help him. The beaming smile reflects the pure joy of starting this next football chapter in Indianapolis, with his family in town.
His words brim with the excitement, humility and gratitude for what he’s accomplished so far — and what he still intends to achieve.
To the Colts new starting quarterback, this journey will be measured by more than rings or state lines. Richardson and his family are, finally, winning the game of life.
“I know we can manage it better, you know, not worrying about what we’re going to eat at night, what we’re going to wear because we get (team) gear like almost every day,” Richardson said on the cusp of his NFL debut on Sunday against Jacksonville. “You don’t have to stress as much at night. Just focus on your job and think about the things that are helping you maintain a new lifestyle.”
A four-year, $34 million fully guaranteed contract would change anyone’s life. But it hasn’t changed Richardson, the humble, hard-working athlete who always seems to draw attention.
In high school, he was a highly touted quarterback profiled on the Netflix documentary series “QB1: Beyond the Lights.” He played at Florida, just a few miles from his high school, donning the same No. 15 as 1997 Heisman Trophy winner and two-time national champ Tim Tebow.
People saw him as a gifted future pro who had all the prototypical tools — big body, strong arm, great speed and uncanny football IQ.
It was what most didn’t see that fueled Robinson’s ascent.
As LaShawnda Lane supported her family by working an assortment of jobs, occasionally more than one at a time, Richardson helped with the home front. He ensured his younger brother, Corey Carter, made it home safely after school and even learned to cook with whatever he could scrounge up. Pancakes were always a favorite though the options were sometimes slim.
“When I couldn’t eat, I was eating at (football) practice,” the 21-year-old rookie said. “We had a snack room in high school, and I used to be in the snack room eating snacks because I didn’t have any food at home. So all the things football has given me, I appreciate it. I’m thankful for it.”
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The financial hardships also impacted Richardson’s athletic career. At one point, the long odds of an NFL career prompted him to pursue a firefighting career.
Then as he started moving up the recruiting rankings things changed. Richardson suddenly realized he might be one of the lucky ones though he wasn’t getting as many offers as other recruits. Richardson soon figured out why: He couldn’t afford to attend some of the elite quarterback camps.
And when he did finally make it to the big camps, Richardson took full advantage. He added the clothing he collected to his wardrobe and started getting more scholarship offers before opting to play for the Gators.
At Florida, Richardson completed 54.7% of his throws and went 6-7 as the starter before entering the NFL draft. He didn’t disappoint at the league’s annual scouting combine in Indy, either.
Measuring in at 6-foot-4, 244 pounds, Richardson ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash, broke the position record with a 40 1/2-inch vertical jump and had the best broad jump by a quarterback in at least two decades, 10 feet, 9 inches. The life-changing performance only cemented the Colts’ interest.
“Look, when he takes off and runs you can feel it,” general manager Chris Ballard said, describing the No. 4 overall draft pick. “He’s really poised, even after a bad play, he’s really got some poise to him that’s unique. There are going to be ups and downs — we know it, everybody in this room knows it. You’ve got to keep stepping up and learn from every situation — the good ones and the bad ones.”
Part of Richardson’s unflappable nature comes from his upbringing.
Another part could be credited to the mental coach who’s spent 12 months working with Richardson on coping with the pressures of meeting other people’s expectations, the natural ebbs and flows of the sport and his ability to embrace the moment.
The combination of his skills, low-key approach, leadership and incredible journey has turned Richardson into an authentic locker room leader who commands respect.
“It speaks to how he carries himself in the building, just the respect we all have for him,” linebacker Zaire Franklin said after Richardson was selected as a team captain. “I want him to know that he’s our leader, we’re going to ride and rock and roll off of him.”
And yet, that’s not the story that makes Richardson proudest. He’s just happy he could help his mother and brother find a home that’s all their own.
“They’ve always been with me and they’re pretty much the only family I really knew growing up,” Richardson said. “There’s been times we had to sleep on the floor, not having enough food, but not really complaining because my mom was grinding, trying to find a way for us and I’m forever thankful for that because it taught me how to go hard and never take what you have for granted.”
By MICHAEL MAROT, Associated Press