The Next One

The Colts selected Anthony Richardson for his powerful arm, athletic prowess, and solid work ethic. After being sidelined due to a shoulder injury, can he bounce back to become the next elite quarterback in the NFL?
Photo courtesy Indianapolis Colts

CEDDERICK DANIELS settles into an upper suite at Lucas Oil Stadium, a basket of chicken fingers in his hands. It’s one hour before the Colts’ home season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the former Gainesville (Florida) Eastside High School football coach is here to watch quarterback Anthony Richardson make his first NFL start in what Indianapolis and the Colts franchise hope is a long and productive career.

Daniels has gathered with several family members and friends to see the grand unveiling of the young man from the University of Florida, who the Colts believe will get them off the quarterback carousel they’ve been on for almost a decade. In a league dominated by elite quarterbacks—Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow, and others—the Colts believe they have found the long-term answer to their prayers with the fourth pick in the most recent NFL Draft.

The skinny on Richardson is this: He’s a freak among a league of freak athletes, testing out at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis as the greatest pure athlete ever seen at the quarterback position. He is the modern-day prototype of the New Age, a dual-threat quarterback, the kind of quarterback the Colts’ first-year head coach Shane Steichen guided in previous years coaching Hurts in Philadelphia. He is a tabula rasa, a bit of a project, a raw and intriguing blend of talent, whether he’s running or throwing the football. He is 6-feet, 4-inches and 244 pounds, bigger and faster afoot than most linebackers.

“A superhero,” Colts owner Jim Irsay calls him.

But … (There is a but.)

He lacks experience. He played just 13 games at the University of Florida, the lowest total of any quarterback chosen in the top four of the draft, and he led the Gators to a humble 6-7 record while completing just 53.8 percent of his passes. Compare that to Peyton Manning, who played 45 college football games. Richardson is raw, uniquely gifted, and capable of becoming elite. But the Colts still don’t truly know what he can accomplish on the field, not over the course of an entire season.

WHEN HE PLAYED this season, he played well. His completion percentage was on the low side (59.5 percent), but he threw for 577 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 136 yards and four touchdowns. Most important, he threw just one interception. During that early stretch when he was in and out of the lineup, the Colts got off to a surprising 3-2 start.

But in pro sports, the greatest ability is availability, and Richardson has not been able to stay healthy. Yes, those are Andrew Luck flashbacks you’re having. He injured his knee late in the Jacksonville game and missed the last few snaps. He suffered a concussion against Houston; he was removed from play and missed the next game at Baltimore. When he returned for the Tennessee game, he didn’t last long, suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. Unlike Luck, who eschewed shoulder surgery in 2015, the Colts and Richardson felt it would be best for the player to go under the knife right away.

“We like what he can be,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard said shortly after selecting Richardson. “We drafted him for what we think he can really be in the future.”

When Richardson was drafted, there was some question about whether he’d start from the jump or sit and learn behind veteran quarterback Gardner Minshew, who was signed prior to the draft to be a mentor and possibly a bridge quarterback. But for all of Richardson’s rawness and inexperience, he took to Steichen’s new offense quickly and was named the starter, and a co-captain, after the first preseason game against Buffalo.

FOR DANIELS, Richardson’s rise to the Colts starting quarterback spot comes as no surprise. The pair met the summer of Richardson’s eighth grade year. Due to his good grades and desire to become a firefighter, Richardson attended a magnet school with an academy for students who wanted to enter the field. But the school didn’t have a football program, so he was allowed to play football for Eastside.

“When I first saw him, I couldn’t believe he was an eighth grader,” Daniels says. “He was 6-foot-2, around 180 to 190 pounds. He had the frame, the wide shoulders. I thought, This kid has the capability of putting on more weight and being a big-time passer.

“The first time I saw him throw, I was amazed. I remember one game, he threw a ball 40 to 50 yards. It was incomplete, but my friends came over to me like, ‘Man, that kid’s got an arm on him.’ I told them, ‘He’s only a freshman.’”

While Daniels sits in the suite, memories flood back. “I remember a game, he had five, six guys all over him, totally bottled up, trying to wrap him up, and then all of a sudden, he’s bursting out of there and running 75 yards for a touchdown,” he says.

Daniels is asked about the pressure resting atop Richardson’s broad shoulders in a city that has produced great quarterbacks. First, there’s Manning. Then, there’s Luck. One Hall of Famer and another on the Hall of Fame trajectory until injuries forced him to retire at age 29. Richardson is The Next One. Or so everyone hopes.

But the idea that the pressure will somehow consume Richardson makes Daniels laugh, if only a little.

“Pressure? He’s out here playing a kid’s game, having the time of his life,” Daniels says. “All he wants to do is play football. If you take everything that surrounds football away from him and just let him say, ‘Down, set, hut!’ he’d be in hog heaven.

“Pressure is, ‘Coach, I’ve got to leave practice and go pick up Corey [Richardson’s younger brother]; I’ll be right back.’ Pressure is, ‘Coach, I need to get in the food pantry because we don’t have any food in the house, and mom is working a double.’ Pressure is, ‘Can I save some of this food for after the game so I can take some home for the weekend?’ That’s pressure.”

Richardson later responds with a smile. “Pressure doesn’t do anything but make a legend,” he says simply.

THE MORNING of Richardson’s NFL regular season debut against the Jaguars, Daniels sent him a text. It was from Scripture, Psalm 118: “This is the day that the Lord has made; rejoice and be glad in it. O Lord, save us; O Lord, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord …”

In the opener, Richardson delivered, completing 24 of 37 passes for 223 yards in a 30-17 loss to the Jaguars. He wasn’t great. He wasn’t bad. He was OK—more than OK—as a rookie in his first-ever start. At game’s end, he met in the middle of the field with the opposing quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, who was in Richardson’s place just two years earlier.

“Protect yourself,” Lawrence told Richardson.

Late in the game, Richardson ran hard to convert a fourth and 5 and took a shot in the knee. He was taken out of the game, which was already something of a lost cause at the time. While Steichen said he could have returned, he remained on the sideline. One game later against the Texans, Richardson left in the first quarter due to a concussion. He then missed the next week’s game in Baltimore. Then came the shoulder injury in Week 5 against the Titans, which placed him on the IR (injury reserve). Then surgery. Season over. Those were more hard lessons in the continuing education of 21-year- old Anthony Richardson.

LAWSHAWNDA CLEARE, Anthony’s mother, is on a Zoom call with local writers. She is the hero of her son’s story, formerly a single mom of two (Anthony and Corey, who is about eight years younger) who worked two and three jobs at a time to support her family. The family had lived in Miami, but moved to Gainesville when Anthony was 10. “I tell people all the time, it was me following God,” Cleare says. “I had a lot of issues in Miami. I didn’t want to raise my kids there, so I started looking for other places. I actually was trying to find Section 8 housing. Gainesville actually sent me a letter saying I did not get accepted into the program. It can only be God because I got a phone call a week later asking me when I wanted to come up and get my keys to my apartment.

“As a mother, I’m just thinking, Let me get my kids somewhere safe, where they can thrive and be successful. I was preparing for their future and the whole time, God had set everything up. “Anthony always says I made a lot of sacrifices. Me being a mom, I did what any other mother would do: Put their children first … I made sure I did what I needed to do to pay the bills and provide them with the things they needed to succeed and fulfill their dreams. It was just me being a mom.” Says Richardson, “She delivered mail, worked at Taco Bell, worked with [hospital] patients, drove city buses, volunteered at school, helped with our football team—anything she could do to provide for us. All the dreams and aspirations we had for ourselves and everything she wanted for us, she was doing her part. She did more than a great job.”

Photo courtesy Indianapolis Colts

It was never easy. The family lived in a challenging part of Gainesville, a place where poverty, crime, and drugs are rampant. “It’s a typical lower income area; you get what you get,” Daniels says. Anthony was the man of the family. He cooked, cleaned, provided for Corey, and expertly prepared pancakes for his little brother. “Throughout middle school, [Mom] wasn’t home a lot, always working, seeing how much she wanted to support us,” Richardson says. “I’d only see her an hour or two during the day because she’d go to work, come home, change clothes, and then go back out there to work. So it was just me and my brother at home. I had to feed him and make sure he was good.

“Seeing how hard she was grinding, I feel like it would be a disservice to her if I don’t put in the same effort. If I don’t grind, that’s like a slap in the face to her.” Daniels kept a food pantry in the school’s athletic department, providing sustenance for any players who might be hungry or in need of food at home. Richardson visited frequently. “There’s been plenty of times when we didn’t have a place to stay, times where I had to decide if I was going to buy food, pay the utility bill, or pay the rent,” Cleare says. “There were times when I couldn’t afford to get Corey his medication because I had to pay the rent and we didn’t have any food. “Our hardship didn’t bring me down. It’s like working out in the gym. In the beginning it’s going to be hard, but then you see results. Everything I’ve been through made me stronger. I actually learned how to make a meal out of $2 and make it last two days.”

While his mother worked (and worked, and worked), Richardson grew quickly, revealing himself as a superior athlete. Cleare got her first glimpse of her son’s promise when he was 3 years old. “He always tells the story about when he threw a football and it almost broke my grandma’s window,” she says. “That was the first time I realized, He has an arm, and I am not catching any more of these balls.” In fourth grade, he again showed off the rocket arm that would eventually make the Colts, and the rest of the NFL, take notice.

“As a mother, you always think your kid’s the fastest, funniest, most awesome child,” Cleare says. “We were at a track and field event for his school, and my sister was there, and it was a lot of kids, and they had to throw the ball. Anthony was just sitting down having a conversation with the other kids. The other kids were doing all kinds of stuff to pump up and get their arms ready; Anthony was just sitting down. I’m like, ‘Why’s he just sitting there? He needs to get ready.’ And my sister was like, ‘Oh, that’s Anthony. He’s fine. He’s going to win.’

“When it was Anthony’s turn to throw the ball, he threw it so hard, the guys had to get on a [motorized] cart to go get it, and the guys did a double take. And I said to my sister, ‘My son is awesome.’ To see him run farther than the other kids, never give up. It was always, ‘I need to do this, Momma. I need to throw the football. I need to run. I can’t stop.’ I always say my kid is good, but moms always say that. But when he threw that ball in the fourth grade, and that guy had to get the cart to go get it, I was like, ‘Wow.’”

Despite all that, Richardson truly thought his future lay in firefighting. Time and again, he heard the daunting statistics about how difficult it is to become an NFL player. His coursework in high school even gave him hands-on training on firefighting, but as time wore on, it became apparent to everybody—Richardson included—that he was blessed with the requisite athleticism and intelligence to have a clear shot at professional football.

He got his chance in the perfect place, landing in Indy with new head coach Shane Steichen, who has established himself as a quarterback whisperer. As an assistant with the Chargers, Steichen’s tutelage helped shape then-rookie quarterback Justin Herbert, now one of the league’s rising stars. As an offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, he was hugely responsible for the development of Jalen Hurts, another dual-threat quarterback whose right arm is as dangerous as his legs. “There’s a natural feel back there playing quarterback, without a doubt,” Steichen said the day after the Colts lost 29-23 to the Rams in overtime at Lucas Oil. “You can coach some of these things, but some of the stuff he does on the field you can’t coach. A lot of instincts come into play, and he has great instincts—and it showed up. He just continues to make pays to help this football team win.”

In Indy, Richardson not only found an NFL home, but he also found a family home, bringing his mother and brother, his girlfriend, and several friends when he moved to Westfield. When Cleare got the keys to her new house, she was in heaven. No more double and triple shifts. No more fear of the obstacles and dangers that made life in Gainesville challenging. This is the dream.“They’ve always been on this journey with me,” Richardson says with a smile.

Photo courtesy Indianapolis Colts


Still early in his career, Anthony Richardson has shown he is generous beyond his years, here are come examples:

AT AN NFL rookie dinner this past summer, Richardson was aghast at the mess his fellow players left behind. So he started cleaning and bussing tables to make life easier for the cleanup staff. Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, approached Richardson and told him he didn’t need to straighten up. Richardson replied, “We left this room in an unacceptable condition, and it’s not right for us to expect the staff to clean it all up.”

EARLIER THIS season, every player on the roster arrived at the 56th Street practice facility and found a pair of Apple silver headphones at their lockers, courtesy of Anthony Richardson and priced at about $550 each.

A WOMAN recently posted a video on X, formerly known as Twitter, showing her late father’s excitement when the Colts drafted Richardson. It was the last time she saw him before he passed away. Richardson took notice and responded, “My condolences on your father’s passing. I’m glad you allowed me to share this moment and memory with you, thanks for all the support and may he rest in peace!”