By the end of his junior year, Kendrick Richardson had earned a reputation.
And not a good one.
To outsiders, he looked like a young man out of control. The narrative on Richardson became: Good player, bad kid. Another talented athlete who couldn’t put it together.
Richardson was kicked off the football team as a sophomore and kicked off the basketball team as a junior. Skipping school was the final straw in both cases.
As a senior, he had one last chance to prove that bad rap wasn’t true.
He did. Emphatically.
Richardson became the dominant force his talent promised as early as middle school, becoming the heart of Northern Nash and winning the Telegram’s 2013 All-Area Defensive Player of the Year.
“I knew it was either going to be now or never. It was either I buckle down now or it’s going to be too late,” Richardson said. “By the time I look at it, I’ll be out of school like, ‘I could have been doing this’ or ‘I could have been doing that.’ Nobody wants to be a could-have-been player. Nobody wants that.”
With a new staff in place for his senior season at Northern Nash, Richardson was not judged based upon his past. New coach Randy Raper gave Richardson a new beginning.
What Raper heard about Richardson and what he came to know about Richardson didn’t match.
“He took a bad rap, I think,” said Raper, who, like most other people, heard Richardson was a bad kid. “Some of the things, they’re kids and they make mistakes, and sometimes I think we forget that.
“I went in with an open mind and made my own judgment, and I think Kendrick’s a fine young man.”
Richardson’s football days at Red Oak Middle School had a legend to them. Many of his former teammates remember practices with Richardson like bugs remember encounters with 18-wheelers. He seemed destined for football prowess then.
After several hang-ups, he became the varsity player as a senior who many thought he could be. He cruised into double-digit sacks. He led the team in tackles by a wide margin. He wrecked opposing offensive lines, and was the area’s unofficial leader in false starts caused.
When the Knights’ offense struggled to find its footing, Richardson became the Wildcat quarterback, and what the sets lacked in imagination – almost all of his snaps were runs between the tackles – they made up in effectiveness.
When football was taken away from him, Richardson realized he was wasting an opportunity.
“Even when I didn’t go to the games, I still had to go to school and show my face around campus and the school. Even students start to look at you like, ‘Hey, man, why are you not playing?’ It was like a big letdown,” Richardson said.
He made it through his junior season of football, albeit on a dysfunctional Northern Nash team, only to be booted off a basketball team that desperately needed his size.
All the old murmuring started coming back.
“After I got kicked off, it was like, another year and I’m not playing basketball,” Richardson said. “People are starting to think, Kendrick, he’s not gonna finish. It leaves them with a bad taste in their mouth.”
Richardson said he had to cut some friends out his life. Hanging with them meant risking another year, so he told them there had to be some distance.
The trouble that followed him created an image of him that he said isn’t accurate.
Many people are surprised upon meeting Richardson to find that he actually is very friendly and polite. His senior year was about showing people the real him.
“I’d just like people to know the real Kendrick,” he said. “I’m not what they hear. Actually meet me and judge me when you meet me, not what you hear.”
“He has got one of the biggest hearts of any kid I’ve ever known,” Kendrick’s father, Keith Richardson, said. “He had some misguidance, and he had to really focus and decide what he wanted for his life. … This kid can do whatever he sets his mind to if he focuses and survives himself.”
Richardson put it all together for his senior season. Raper said he hopes this year taught Richardson the value of working toward a goal and refusing to be deterred.
And while his next step is uncertain, Richardson knows one thing about the next phase of his life.
“I think I’m going to surprise a lot of people,” Richardson said. “I think a lot of people think I have a chance to go somewhere, but I don’t think they’re really catching on to (that) I am going to do it. I really want to prove people wrong.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz @rmtelegram.com