PLANT CITY — Vipers defensive end Bobby Richardson has made a career out of playing football. But when he landed at Plant High School in the middle of his junior year, such a notion was unthinkable.
"The amazing thing was (Richardson) had never really played,” said Robert Weiner, Richardson’s high school coach who is now a co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach for the Toledo Rockets . “He was on a team previously, but he was never really a starter and when we got him, we saw this hungry kid who wanted to go after it.”
Weiner remembers first noticing Richardson’s large hands and seeing a player “that was starting to grow into his size” — Richardson is now 6-2 and 283 pounds. Plant coaches couldn’t figure out how past schools were not enthused to start this kid.
Richardson weaved himself into Plant’s program seamlessly, always working behind the scenes and trying to get better. Weiner said Richardson was ready to attach himself to a program and people he could trust.
“He just needed to find that,” Weiner said. “I look back at that moment and his time with us at Plant as really a turning point for him. When he started to see some success, I’ve never seen someone feed so much just off of good momentum — personally, on the team, in the classroom. And this was a kid that by the time he left us he was ready to take off.”
And take off he did — once he found the right college fit. Richardson tallied 76 tackles in his 2010 season for Plant, but having only one year of high school film made it difficult for Weiner to sell him as a recruit.
“Not a lot of people were on him,” Weiner said, “and I was like, ‘Someone’s going to get this kid and then I’m going to have the Floridas, Florida States, Miamis calling me down the road saying why didn’t I give them Bobby Richardson, even though I tried to.’”
Indiana was convinced to take on the diamond in the rough. And that diamond cleaned up quite nicely for the Hoosiers.
Richardson started six games as a freshman and eventually became a team captain and honorable mention all-Big Ten by the end of his senior season. Though he went undrafted, Richardson did enjoy a brief stint in the NFL.
He started 11 games as a defensive lineman with the New Orleans Saints in 2015, but spent most of his time off and on NFL rosters — five different teams in four years — before heading north to play for the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats under current Vipers defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville.
Not knowing what was really next after the CFL, he considered retirement. He even discussed potential coaching opportunities back home at Plant with Weiner.
But Glanville fought for Richardson to return to Tampa Bay, knowing full well just how good of a player he was from his time in the CFL. Despite Richardson’s initial reluctance, the 78-year-old coach wouldn’t give up on him.
“(The XFL) came about and (Richardson) and I were talking about it, and I told him the longer you can play football for money and don’t have to do something in the outside real world, keep doing that,” Weiner said with a chuckle.
Richardson, 27, agreed to another chat with Glanville in September, a month before the XFL draft. Glanville’s pitch was straight to the point:
“I want to draft you.”
“Coach, uh, I retired,” Richardson responded.
“I don’t care, I’m drafting you.”
And he did, proving that the sleeper of the 2011 recruiting class is still a coveted player.