by John Goolsby
When Richard Richardson stepped off the football field in Mountie Stadium on November 7, 1986, he thought his playing days were over. Little did he know that almost a decade later, he would be playing on the west coast as a University of California Golden Bear.
Irondale’s Richardson was an extremely talented and explosive player at Shades Valley. He played running back, wide receiver, and defensive back for the Mounties. Richardson was a big-play threat for the Mounties whenever he touched the ball. He scored touchdowns in every way possible: kick returns, interception returns, pass receptions, and rushing. Richardson was named All-County and All-Over the Mountain at the end of the 1986 season.
Richardson was an integral part of the 1986 team that won a region championship for the first time since 1983 and brought the Mounties back to their winning ways after two losing seasons. Shades Valley’s resurgent season ended with a loss in the playoffs to state runner-up Jesse Lanier. Richardson had this to say about the team’s success, “we were a winning team because we had great team effort, great leadership, and we had the mental aspects that a team needs to win.”
Much credit is given to the ’86 team for laying the foundation for the program’s incredible run from 1987 through 2000. During that period, the Mounties record was 123-48 (72%). They made the playoffs twelve times, won nine region championships, played in two state championship games, and advanced to two state semi-finals
After Richardson graduated in 1987, he enlisted in the Navy for four years and was stationed in California. Six months before he was scheduled to leave the military, the itch to play football returned when he saw a junior college team, Laney College, practicing. “That got my juices flowing, and I ended up going over and talking to the coaches,” Richardson said.
After he fulfilled his commitment to the Navy, Richardson enrolled at Laney College. Laney College has most recently been highlighted on NETFLIX’s Last Chance U series. He was a star defensive back for the Eagles during the 1991 and 1992 seasons. The decision to give football another shot paid off big time. Richardson left Oakland with forty offers to play football at the Division 1 level.
Richardson ultimately signed with the University of California, Berkeley. “I chose academics over sports,” he said. That decision allowed him to play big-time college football in the PAC-10 and get a degree from one of the top academic universities in the nation.
After sitting out a year, Richardson saw playing time for the Golden Bears in 1994. Unfortunately, an injury during his senior season in 1995 cut his playing career short. Richardson graduated in 1996 and remained with the Cal football program as a graduate assistant for the 1996 season.
Even though his playing days were over, Richardson knew he could stay close to the game he loved by going into coaching. He left Cal to coach at Berkeley High School in 1997 and 1998. Richardson then made the jump to the collegiate level. He returned to where it all started, Laney College, for the 1999 and 2000 seasons.
After an incredible 14 years on the west coast, it was time for Richardson to return home to Alabama. He first landed at his alma mater, coaching at Shades Valley for the 2001 season. Richardson then joined Bobby Humphrey’s Birmingham Steeldogs staff from 2002-2005.
After the 2005 season, Richardson stepped away from coaching and joined the business world for a number of years.
Because of Richardson’s outstanding play as a defensive back at Laney College, he was inducted into the California Community College Football Coaches Association’s (CCCFCA) Hall of Fame (Player-post 1975 category) in 2013. Richardson is one of 63 members of a highly decorated group that includes dozens of NFL players, including Keyshawn Johnson, Steve Smith, Isaac Bruce, Greg Townsend, Jeff Garcia, Jason Seahorn, and Steve Sarkisian, to name a few.
After his break from coaching, Richardson joined current Mountie head coach Rueben Nelson at Ramsay High School. Richardson was Nelson’s defensive coordinator when the Rams won the 6A State Championship in 2016.
The following year Richardson joined Birmingham Prep, a post-graduate prep football program. In 2018 Richardson started his own prep program, Birmingham Sports Academy.
There are few opportunities outside of NCAA Division I, II or III for players in this state to continue playing after high school. Football is not played at the junior college level in Alabama. Compare that to California that has 68 junior college teams playing football. These post-graduate prep programs act as a substitute for junior college football. Programs such as the Birmingham Sports Academy give players the opportunity to improve academically and athletically without losing a year of collegiate eligibility.
Richardson’s Eagles have found success in the early years of the program. Off the field, they have helped numerous players find spots on college rosters. On the field, they have played in the league championship game for the last four years.
Richardson’s unique personal experience helps him to understand the need for and value of post-graduate programs in the state. He knows what it is like to fight to get a second chance, how hard you have to work once you get that chance, and how critically important education is. Richardson knows he is in a position to make a difference. “It’s just the good Lord putting me where He wants me to be,” he said.
Richardson has this parting advice for the current Mounties, “You may not get a second chance like me, so do things right the first time.”
You can read more about the Birmingham Sports Academy at: https://www.bhamsportsaca.org