It didn’t take Daniel Richardson long to feel the euphoria of a state championship.
As a freshman in 2015, on the biggest state of his burgeoning football career, he threw three touchdown passes — including the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter — to help a Booker T. Washington team that was doubted the entire season win its fourth consecutive Class 4A title.
The doubt made the celebration that much sweeter.
Three years and a new school later, Richardson wants to feel that rush again.
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The stage is different this time around, though. Richardson is playing his senior at Carol City, the preseason favorite to come out on top in Class 6A and arguably the state’s top team regardless of classification.
But the sentiment remains.
“I haven’t been back in three years,” Richardson said. “Going into my senior year, that’s the goal. That’s the goal.”
And Richardson provides Carol City with something most high schools in South Florida lack: A veteran quarterback who has played in the statement games, come out victorious in the pressure situations and knows what it takes to lead a team to a championship.
“You look at a lot of these successful programs striving for championships whether it’s the NCAA or the NFL or high school, it starts with the quarterback,” said second-year Carol City coach Benedick Hyppolite, who served as Booker T’s offensive coordinator during Richardson’s freshman year and that unexpected title run. “If you have a good quarterback, you’re giving yourself a chance, an opportunity to win. We’re comfortable with him. He’s experienced. This is a kid who’s going into his fourth year as a high school quarterback as a starter each and every year. Whenever you have a quarterback that’s experienced, you’re giving yourself a chance down here in South Florida to win a state championship.”
Hyppolite knows he has a good quarterback.
In three years at Booker T. Washington, Richardson completed 60 percent of his passes for 6,537 yards and 81 touchdowns. As a sophomore, he was named the South Florida Player of the Year.
But Richardson said the individual stats and accolades could easily be brushed to the side.
“It’s about the team,” he said.
This year, that means a new team.
Richardson was mum on his decision to switch schools for his senior year, simply referring to “different changes, different coaching changes, a lot of different things” as the deciding factor before adding that “everything happens for a reason.”
“It was a great move for me,” Richardson said. “Booker T. Washington is a great program, an excellent program. I felt like Carol City was the right place for me at the right time.”
His new supporting cast is ready to help as well.
Senior running back Nayquan Wright is back healthy after missing the 2017 season with an ankle injury. Receiver Amari Johnson is likely to be a favorite target throughout the year. Defensive stalwarts Malcolm Ray and Jarvis Brownlee aim to stymie opponents each week.
But Richardson will still be at the center of it all.
“He’s our guy,” Hyppolite added. “He’s going to sling the ball around and put it into the guys’ hands and be successful.”
Hyppolite has seen Richardson’s growth first-hand. There are the hour-long meetings before practice, where the two would go over different schemes and coverage Richardson would likely see. There’s the improved decision making on the spot, knowing when to audible a play on the fly. There’s the better understanding of protecting the football and limiting turnovers, a trait that eluded him early in his career.
And there’s the never-back-down mentality that has only grown stronger.
“Through the good and through the bad,” Hyppolite said, “he was always going to compete.”
That go-getter attitude has helped Richardson attract offers from the University of Alabama-Birmingham, FIU, FAU and Toledo. He expects more offers could come throughout his senior season, after which he plans to enroll in college early.
“I have to show that I can play,” Richardson said.
He’ll certainly have the chance, considering Carol City’s schedule. In addition to the usual round robin against district powerhouses Northwestern, Central and Norland, the Chiefs open the season against defending Class 5A champ Plantation American Heritage on Friday and face a pair of Class 8A contenders in Columbus on Sept. 7 and Southridge on Oct. 5. Richardson will face his former team in Booker T. Washington on Oct. 18.
If Carol City can come out of that gauntlet and the three playoff games that will follow, Richardson will find himself back in Orlando once again, ready for one more shot at the title.
“Win another championship as a team,” Richardson said, “playing together as one.”
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