Posted: 12:35 am Saturday, May 31st, 2008

Is Nu’Keese the next Percy Harvin? More details on the Pahokee star choosing Florida 

By Jason Lieser

In Saturday’s edition of the Post, we ran an article on Pahokee quarterback/receiver Nu’Keese Richardson and his verbal commitment to the University of Florida.

The piece focused a lot on Richardson’s incredible life story, but there is much more to say about the recruiting process and how he wound up picking the Gators among the nation’s elite football programs.

South Carolina was the bridesmaid in this one, followed by Georgia. Michigan and USC were finalists, but they were out of the hunt at least two weeks ago.

There were three major factors in Richardson choosing Florida:

Proximity is an easy element to dismiss, because you don’t see local talent lining up to play for FAU in order to stay close to home. But in Richardson’s case, it was a key reason why he opted for Florida over South Carolina. He has a lot of family in South Florida and Gainesville is a doable drive for them to see him play, and for him to head back when he wants.

The success of Percy Harvin and Florida’s receivers appealed to him as well. Florida was third in the SEC in passing yards last season, four players had at least 500 yards receiving and seven caught multiple touchdown passes.

“Their stats blew me away,” Richardson said Friday.

Harvin, who plays running back and wide receiver, was one of the best players in the nation last season and could win the Heisman this year if Tim Tebow doesn’t repeat. Harvin rushed for 764 yards and six TDs; he caught 59 balls for 858 yards and four TDs.

Why the emphasis on Harvin? Wisely, the Gators used Harvin’s success to lure to Richardson. Richardson told the Post earlier this week that Florida has been recruiting him specifically to fill that role. Harvin will be a senior, unless he enters the draft, by the time Richardson sets foot on campus.

Their measurables are similar, too. Harvin is 5-11, 178, and runs between 4.2 and 4.3 in the 40-yard dash. By comparison, Richardson is 5-10 1/2, 175 pounds, and runs a 4.3. Pahokee coach Blaze Thompson will start Richardson at quarterback, but expects him to play plenty of receiver and some running back.

Richardson was the Blue Devils’ No. 3 wide receiver in 2007, behind seniors Martavious Odoms (now at Michigan) and Antavious Wilson (Buffalo). In a limited role, he had 26 catches for 452 yards and six touchdowns.

The third reason Richardson opted for Florida is obvious. Of all the numbers that danced in his head, one stood out above the rest: 48.

That’s how many UF alumni currently play in the NFL. The Gators had a first-round pick in each of the last two drafts, and 11 players chosen overall in that time.

For a fourth reason behind Richardson’s pick, some might tout the idea that he wanted to play with former Pahokee teammate Janoris Jenkins. Richardson plans to follow Jenkins’ path of graduating a semester early and enrolling in time for spring practices, but that familiarity with Jenkins and other Muck City friends on the Gators had no bearing on his choice.

“Choosing a place is not based on my friendships; It’s based on my heart,” Richardson said.

“I wanted to get it done so I could focus on school … I’m still going to take my five official visits and have fun with it, but I’m convinced. I’m not going to play around with other schools because I wouldn’t want anyone to play around with me like that.”

Richardson went on plenty of visits already and fielded so many phone calls from recruiters and fans that he had his phone service temporarily discontinued.

“The craziest thing was a fan from South Carolina called me and begged me, ‘Please don’t let me down,'” Richardson said, laughing. “He said he’d come down here and get me.”

How the heck did they get his cell phone number?

“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s crazy. People call me from everywhere.”

Last week he said he was leaning toward South Carolina, and has worn Gamecocks shorts throughout spring practices, but as his self-scheduled decision day approached, people close to him began to bet on Florida.

Richardson said he was “pretty sure” of his choice by Thursday, and he would have done the Gator chomp if he had scored in that night’s spring game against Dwyer. He completed 10 of 14 passes for 133 yards at quarterback before moving to receiver, but never found the end zone in Pahokee’s 18-7 win.

Richardson said he let a few people know he was picking UF, but swore them to secrecy in order to let suspense build around his pending announcement.

He ended the mystery publicly at a press conference in Pahokee on Friday afternoon. After a lunch at nearby Papa Jimmy’s with Thompson, Richardson strolled into Pahokee High School donning a blue and gray sweater vest he bought while visiting Gainesville and sat down to a table with family and friends.

Three hats were in front of him: South Carolina, Florida and Georgia. When he picked up the orange hat with a blue F on it, the cameras clicked and he flashed a big grin. Speaking of which, by the way, the kid could beat Ronnie Brown in a smile-off.

Shortly after his announcement, Richardson took a phone call from Gators receivers coach Bill Gonzalez and then spoke with head coach Urban Meyer.

“I’m officially a Gator,” he told Meyer.

“Coach Gonzalez wanted to tell him, but I wanted it to be a surprise. (Meyer) went crazy. He asked me if it was alright if he beat up Gonzalez for not telling him.”

Richardson grew hoping to play for Miami, but ruled out the Hurricanes after they imported several receivers from the class of 2008. His nickname “Pete” comes from boyhood hero Peter Warrick, a former Florida State star, but a source close to Richardson said the Seminoles never asserted themselves in the hunt for fear of “embarrassment” because they knew they had no chance at landing him.

He also said no to any program that suggested playing him at defensive back.

Glades Central center Henry Orelus (LSU) and Fort Pierce Westwood defensive tackle Luther Robinson (Miami) are the area’s other top early commitments, and Richardson’s decision will turn up the attention on other seniors who might commit early. Logically, the next candidates would be Okeechobee running back Lonnie Pryor (deciding between LSU and FSU), Palm Beach Central linebacker Jon Bostic (at least 23 BCS offers) and Glades Central wide receiver Rantavious Wooten (multiple BCS offers).

Pahokee running back Vincent Smith has 10 offers, including bids from Tennessee, Michigan and Minnesota, but might wait until the end of the season to see if more schools enter the race.

To read the feature on Richardson from Saturday’s paper, click here: