Former Florida QB Anthony Richardson is the ultimate Gainesville hometown success story

David Whitley
The Gainesville Sun

The suspense is almost over for Anthony Richardson. According to mock drafts, the Colts will grab him with the fourth pick Thursday night.

Or he’ll go to Titans at No. 11, or the Ravens at No. 22, or maybe Manchester United will swoop in and offer him $50 million to become a goalie.

Who knows?

“A week ago, he was projected to go No. 1,” Cedderick Daniels said. “Now it’s all over the place.”

He was Richardson’s coach at Eastside High School. Like millions of NFL fans, he’s wondering where Richardson will go. But on this Graduation Day of sorts, he can’t help thinking about where Richardson has come from.

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“He’s from Gainesville,” Daniels said. “That kind of thing doesn’t happen to us.”

The city has never had an NFL prospect like Richardson. Clinton Portis was an All-Pro, but Denver didn’t take him until Round 2 in 2002.

And he played for Gainesville High and then Miami. Richardson went to Eastside, the school on the supposed wrong side of the tracks. And he stuck around to play for the Gators.

He is a Gainesville product, through and through. Not so much the city, but the Gainesville Experience. The good times, bad times, places and people who helped him get where he is today.

“My family and my friends, they’ve always been rooting for me,” Richardson said. “I’m just thankful for them, and especially my mom and my little brother. They’re my rock. They’re my backbone.”

Richardson's mom worked two jobs to provide for him and his brother

His mom, LaShawnda Cleare, worked two jobs to provide for him and his brother, Corey. Beyond them, Richardson keeps a tight circle of people he trusts.

People like Daniels, the first coach to let him call his own plays. People like Deiric Jackson, an old Gainesville High star whom Richardson chose as his agent over a horde of high-profile suitors.

And Vernell Brown Jr., a Gainesville native and ex-Gator who quit his job as Director of Student-Athlete Development at UF to become Richardson’s manager and mentor.

Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) walks on the field to warm up during the 2023 NFL Pro Day held at Condron Family Indoor Practice Facility in Gainesville, FL on March 30, 2023. Richardson will meet with six NFL teams. They are the Panthers, Colts, Titans, Raiders, Falcons and Ravens.

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It was Brown who first introduced Richardson to his future high school coach. Sort of.

Brown was coaching a 7-on-7 at a park, when Daniels dropped by their practice. He noticed an 8th-grader on a nearby basketball court throwing down windmill dunks.

“Who’s that?” he asked Brown.

“That’s Anthony,” Brown said. “We’re trying to get him to play with us.”

Eastside High the first to see Anthony Richardson's skills

Daniels talked Richardson into playing for Eastside. “Ant” was an immediate starter at receiver, but he wanted to be a quarterback. The starting QB broke a finger midway through the season, and the legend was born.

Rams fans were the first ones treated to Richardson’s pregame backflips. They still talk about how he had 100-plus yards rushing and passing in his first game at QB. How one of his laser-beam passes split open a receiver’s hand.

How he had 413 yards passing against Bishop Moore. How he almost carried a struggling program to the state playoffs.

Those were the AR headlines. Behind them was the better story.

It was of a single mother who left early every morning to drive a school bus and work at Taco Bell. Her boys shared a bunk bed in their apartment, and Anthony had to get his brother ready for the day.

He’d made breakfast, put Corey on the handlebars of his mountain bike and pedal him to school. He’d wash their clothes in the kitchen sink at night.

“He took a man’s role at a young age,” Daniels said.

Richardson’s escape was the football field. College recruiters came from all over. He was featured in the Netflix documentary series “QB1: Beyond the Lights.”

Beyond the lights, none of it went to his head. Richardson was far too grounded for that. His big weekend activity was playing Fortnite with his friends until the middle of the night.

Richardson still has that inner kid. You’d see it after Gators games, when he’d stop in the parking lot and do a backflip at the request of random young fans.

Inner kid meet real world

He’s still only 20 years old. But now, it’s off to the real world.

“A bunch of us went to dinner Sunday night. Everybody was sitting back and laughing and having a good time,” Daniels said. “And for the first time I saw him not as a little kid anymore.”

He’ll be in Kansas City Thursday night with the rest of Richardson’s hometown support team.     

“It’s big for the community,” Daniels said. “It’s big for the city, and it’s big for us.”

He’s going to try not to cry when Roger Goodell reads a card with Richardson’s name on it. What team will it come from?

In a way, it doesn’t really matter. They can take Richardson out of Gainesville, but they can’t take the Gainesville experience out of Richardson.

What got him this far will always be there, no matter where he goes.

David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley