It has been six weeks since Daniel Richardson jogged back to the sideline, fell to his knees and began foaming at the mouth.
Booker T. Washington’s 14-year-old freshman star quarterback had never been so scared. And neither had his coach, who frantically began signaling for the team trainer and paramedics from a nearby ambulance to figure out what was wrong. Richardson, they later learned, had a concussion.
“What a scary sight that was for us,” said Tornadoes offensive coordinator Benedick Hyppolite, who was talking to Richardson on the sidelines before he collapsed and only seconds after he had thrown a touchdown pass in the first half of a 45-20 win over Gulliver on Oct. 15.
“D-Rich took a lot of hits before that game in the Central and Northwestern games and I think that just carried on over going into Gulliver. Thankfully, he was able to get himself together, not get into the ambulance and kind of be with the team. We sat him the next week against Columbus.”
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Richardson, all of 5-10 and 170 pounds, said he learned quite a bit after the ordeal — namely to try to avoid big hits at all costs, like the helmet-to-helmet collision he had on a touchdown run in a 23-14 win over Southridge on Sept. 19.
Accomplishing that Friday, though, could prove tough. The Cocoa Tigers (10-2) will be coming hard at Richardson and the Tornadoes (7-5) when they meet in the Class 4A state semifinals for the fifth year in a row.
Booker T. has ended Cocoa’s season in each of the four previous seasons, but comes into Friday’s game an undisputed underdog despite playing at the friendly confines of Traz Powell Stadium.
And the Tigers know if they can knock around Richardson — who has completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 2,314 yards and 28 touchdowns as the young ringleader of Booker T.’s offense — it’s almost certain the Tornadoes’ run of consecutive state titles will come to an end at three.
“We really don’t,” Richardson said with a snicker when asked whether the Tornadoes feel like underdogs. “We’re well-prepared. We might be a young team, but we’re really not. We’re grown men on the field when it comes to football.”
Richardson, who doesn’t turn 15 until January, has done nothing but win in youth league. He came to Booker T. in the summer already with an FIU scholarship offer in hand and a 56-0 record and four rings as the starting quarterback for Pembroke Pines Optimist. FAU offered Richardson after he rallied Booker T. in a hard-fought, 35-28 loss to Miami Central on Sept. 26. After throwing for 292 yards and a season-high five touchdowns last week in a 35-21 win at Belle Glade Glades Central in the second round of the playoffs, more scholarship offers are soon to come.
“One thing I like about Daniel is the bigger the stage, the bigger he rises,” Hyppolite said. “He doesn’t get rattled and he makes my job easier as a play caller. He’ll see something and come back to me on the sidelines and say, ‘Coach, I saw this. Let’s go with this.’ And we’ll execute it. So we have that relationship that we’re continuing to grow.”
Although he has thrown 10 interceptions this season, Richardson (named the starter after Booker T.’s season-opening, 35-3 loss at St. Thomas Aquinas) has played lights out since his return from the concussion. He has completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 745 yards, 12 touchdowns and only one interception in consecutive wins over Edison, University School and Glades Central.
But the challenge this week goes up a notch. The Tigers have won six games in a row by at least 37 points, boast a defense that has forced 21 turnovers and 16 sacks in 12 games and is led by 5-11, 190-pound four-star cornerback Chauncey Gardner, a University of Florida commitment.
Cocoa’s offense, meanwhile, averages 353 yards rushing and 39.8 points per game behind four-star junior quarterback Bruce Judson (5-9, 184), 6-4, 345-pound senior offensive lineman Jawan Taylor (University of Miami commitment) and 5-8, 175-pound junior Timmy Pratt, who has run for 1,631 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“I’m not going to say anything bad about a team,” Richardson said. “They’re a pretty good team.”
But he’s not scared. History is on his side.
After all, there have been only 10 other quarterbacks in Miami-Dade County history to throw 28 touchdown passes in a season and six won state titles (Jacory Harris, Rakeem Cato, Maurice Alexander, Kahlil Render, Treon Harris and Kato Nelson).
Said Richardson: “I won four in a row in optimist. So it would be great if I won four in high school.”