HAMPTON, Va. - Two months after Nu'Keese Richardson's arrest ended his freshman season and football career at the University of Tennessee, the wide receiver has resurfaced.
One day before coach Lane Kiffin's sudden move to Southern California, Richardson pleaded guilty to one count of attempted robbery Jan. 11. Last Friday, the 5-foot-10, 165-pound Richardson roamed Hampton University's campus, on his second chance in an new environment conducive to his maturation.
"I was watching (Richardson) walk from weight lifting and it was as if he was just another student," said Hampton coach Donovan Rose. "No one was running up to him, trying to get his autograph or talk to him. It's amazing how few recognize him on campus."
Now one of only 5,656 undergraduates enrolled at Hampton, Richardson's mentor believes his high-profiled player, whose last-minute decision to leave Florida and attend Tennessee created headlines, is a good fit for the Pirates.
"Hampton is a personable and close-knit campus," said Rose, who serves as director of the Hampton Opportunity Program for Enhancement, which has mentored black males since 1992. "He can come in and talk to the head coach at any time, get extra help from teachers and he isn't dealing with classes that have hundreds of students. (Players coming from big schools) do better at Hampton."
Kiffin dismissed Richardson and freshman defensive back Mike Edwards from the team four days after three men reported they were victims of a robbery attempt at a convenience store Nov. 12. Charges were dropped against freshman safety Janzen Jackson.
Richardson reached a plea agreement and in return received pre-trial diversion and three years probation. If Richardson can meet all provisions under his probationary period, Knox Country Criminal Court Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz will permanently erase the charges from his record.
"Basically, I've learned my lesson about what happens when you make stupid mistakes," Richardson said after the court proceedings. "I do not want to ever be in a predicament like this again."
While recruiting the South Florida region last December, Rose and recruiting coordinator Stephen Field sat down with Richardson's aunt and uncle, high school football coach, and mentors in Pahokee, Fla. Richardson was ranked the No. 8 receiver in the nation and the Pahokee High star ended up in a recruiting battle between Florida and Tennessee.
The judge's final ruling served as the last check, ensuring Richardson could suit up as soon as spring practice in March for Hampton.
"I received nothing but good remarks about (Richardson's) character," Rose said. "He's a 'yes sir, no sir' kind of guy. He was just a good kid at the wrong place at the wrong time."
Rose said Richardson, who has three years of eligibility left and can play this season because the Pirates (5-6, 2-5 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) compete in the Football Championship Subdivision, likely will be tagged as an impact player, helping to catapult an offense that ranked middle-of-pack in the conference last season.
It's a unit that for the past two seasons utilized LaMarcus Coker, who transferred from Tennessee after former coach Phillip Fulmer dismissed the running back in 2007 following his fourth failed drug test.
"He's almost like a Percy Harvin," said Rose, comparing him to the rookie receiver of the Minnesota Vikings and former Florida star. "I looked at his tape and he is just an amazing athlete that can come right in and help us.
"Now that he can play in spring practice, he can really learn the offense come time for the season."
Coker, who finished the 2009 season as the MEAC's leading rusher, overcame his past to create a potential NFL future with his opportunity at Hampton.
Rose believes that once Richardson becomes acclimated with the program and university, his top incoming transfer will share the same success.
"I am going to do everything to be a positive role model," Rose said. "We are going to keep it real with him in terms of expectations and make sure that he knows what to do."