As Clifton Richardson prepares to enter his junior season of football at Menchville High, he's drawing motivation from two sources: the book bag full of college letters he already has received, and his 3-year-old nephew.
Richardson, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound do-everything sophomore, is drawing significant attention from some pretty serious college football programs such as Virginia,
, Penn State, Notre Dame, UCLA, Oregon, Missouri, North Carolina, Duke, N.C. State and Louisville. The letters and kind words are nice, but the love and admiration he receives from Taquan Hawkins means even more to Richardson.
Hawkins, 3, was burned over 85 percent of his body last November in an accidental apartment fire in Hampton. After numerous skin grafts and physical therapy, Hawkins' recovery has been slow, but steady.
"He's doing real well," Richardson said. "We taught him how to walk again … Three of his fingers on his left hand got burned, and he was left-handed, so I taught him how to use his right hand. Now, I've got him throwing a little football with his right hand."
Hawkins certainly doesn't have to look far to find a football hero. If Richardson continues to enjoy the kind of success he had in his first two high school seasons, he has a chance to become the most significant football signee Menchville has had since 1996 when
signed a letter of intent with Penn State.
"Just kind of knowing a little bit about the history, Menchville hasn't had the kind of player like (Richardson) since David," said John Byron, who has been Menchville's coach for four seasons. "(Richardson is) a special talent. He really is. He can do a lot of things for us, and has done a lot of things for us already. If we can continue to work everyone else around him to make them better, he's only going to get better himself."
Though Menchville went 2-8 last season, Richardson showed his vast potential. He played quarterback, wide receiver, running back, free safety, cornerback and returned kickoffs.
He ran for 643 yards and five touchdowns last season, passed for 222 yards and two interceptions, had seven catches for 113 yards and a touchdown and registered three interceptions on defense, including one he returned for a touchdown. In his first two high school seasons, he accumulated more than 1,500 yards of total offense.
"He certainly has more raw talent than any other kid I've coached," said Byron, who spent five seasons as defensive coordinator and special-teams coordinator at Brookville High in Lynchburg before coming to Menchville. "To be honest with you, I probably haven't coached against a kid with his potential, more so than when I coached against Vic Hall at Gretna. He reminds me of a kid like that from the standpoint that he can make something difficult look easy."
That's pretty high praise, considering Hall had 13,770 yards of total offense in high school, which is first in Virginia High School League history and fifth all-time in national high school football history. Hall plays quarterback at U.Va.
How is Richardson handling all of the early attention? Well, frankly, he's a little stunned. He never anticipated having this kind of attention coming this young.
"I really thought things would start happening my junior year," Richardson said. "I didn't know colleges were even looking at me as a sophomore."
Then again, it's hard to ignore a player with Richardson's speed. He said he has registered a hand-recorded time of 4.28 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Despite suffering a slightly tweaked hamstring a couple days before a National Underclassmen Combine event April 4 at Oscar Smith High in Chesapeake, he said he still managed to run the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds at the event.
Of course, if the recruiting process ever gets too hectic for Richardson, he doesn't have to look far for a pick-me-up. Hawkins never is far away from him.
"He motivates me a lot," Richardson said. "Through thick and thin, never give up. That's what he taught me. He's my motivation to work harder. He looks up to me, too. He's trying to do everything like me."