January 20, 2011
State's top prospect discusses UT visit in 1st interview
In the end, Antonio Richardson knew that Tennessee ranked among his top choices and that unofficial visits were just that --- informal and not as revealing.
So when the state of Tennessee's top prospect and one of the nation's top offensive linemen in the 2011 signing class finally decided to begin taking official visits last weekend, Rocky Top was his first destination.
"I know Tennessee is in my top five and when it comes to a school, I know there's nothing like an official visit to see how I feel about everything like academics, seeing the environment more and getting to know the players," said the 6-foot-6, 310-pound tackle from Nashville.
After he shined earlier this month as the Volunteer State's lone representative in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Richardson has maintained a hectic schedule --- and his now customary steady approach to recruiting. He spent last weekend in Knoxville, will visit either Georgia or LSU this weekend and hosted coaches from a trio of SEC rivals this week. Georgia sent offensive line coach Stacy Searels, Auburn had defensive backs coach Phillip Lolley check in and Tennessee dispatched both offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.
"I'm just trying to stay consistent with my class-work, stay in shape and keep working out, and above all keep God first," Richardson said.
Richardson, however, acknowledged that the Vols' decision to send two coaches to see him just days after he had been on campus for an official visit left a strong impression.
"Yes sir, it shows me how interested they really are," Richardson said, "and I really appreciate it. They've shown me a lot of love."
Tennessee's coaches also have shown Richardson just where he can fit into the Vols' plans and those of coach Derek Dooley, at the helm now a few days more than a year, moving forward. Richardson met with Chaney, Dooley and Hiestand last weekend --- including a nearly 90-minute visit with the Vols' offensive line coach.
"They just explained to me how critical this time is and telling me all the important stuff as it relates to school and academics and football. We looked at the depth chart and they told me where I stand in their plans, how important I am to their recruiting," said the soft-spoken Richardson, who mauled defenders in the All-American Bowl despite a sore right shoulder. "It was really good, and I liked going over the offense and seeing that."
Richardson praised the family atmosphere he felt at Tennessee last weekend and made clear he had gotten a similar vibe from his interactions with Auburn's coaches as well.
"When I met with coach Dooley, we sat down and talked about football and life in general," he said. "I really do appreciate that, and it's not just these guys. Auburn also has a family concept about it."
On his visit Richardson was hosted by a pair of Tennessee's recently honored freshman offensive linemen. Fellow Nashville native James Stone emerged as the Vols' starting center midway through the season and garnered freshman All-America honors. Ja'Wuan James started all 13 games at right tackle and was an obvious SEC All-Freshman selection.
Though they never met on the gridiron, Richardson and Stone did have a mutual proving ground. Both players logged hours of relentless work at Maurice Fitzgerald's In Full Motion non-profit program in Nashville as they prepared for college. Just as Stone told VolQuest.com a year ago, Richardson also praised the program's impact on him.
"In Full Motion has been a big part for me," said Richardson, who is at Pearl-Cohn focusing on his academics right now. "In Full Motion and Miss Bunch helped me work to get my ACT to a 21. It's been a real blessing for me."
Richardson said he picked the brains of the two rising sophomores about the challenges of early playing time in the ultra-competitive SEC.
"I got to ask them about how they were able to play and have success, because I know as freshmen there are going to be guys stronger," he said. "They talked to me about leverage and scheme and coaching. It was really good to get those questions answered."
The recruits' reception at the basketball game, Richardson said in echoing the sentiments of many prospects last weekend, also stood out.
"It showed me just how passionate the fans are," Richardson said. "Coach Dooley led the way and brought us in the back, and it was just crazy. The fans were yelling and cheering for us, and they don't even know if we're going to play football for Tennessee. I just thought, 'Wow! This is crazy.' It was a good experience."
Working to nail down his final couple of visits, Richardson said he still intends to announce his college choice on signing day, Feb. 2, at Pearl-Cohn High School in Nashville.
Richardson has more than 25 offers, is the No. 7 tackle in the country and a top-75 player nationally, according to Rivals.com.
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