WELLINGTON, Fla. — Top-100 overall athlete Mark-Antony Richards has been looking forward to his recruiting process since the early part of 2016.
His older brother, Ahmmon Richards, was in the heat of his recruitment at the time, with Alabama, Auburn and Miami giving him the full-court press. The U.S. Army All-American receiver took trips to all three schools before choosing the Hurricanes, but an in-home visit from Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban left a lasting impression on his wide-eyed sibling.
“Seeing Nick Saban walk through my house had me like, ‘Whoa.’ I couldn’t believe he was there to see my brother,” Richards told SEC Country. “[Miami coach] Mark Richt, too. You watch them on TV growing up and you never really think it’ll happen to you. But when they came into my house, I told myself, ‘I want them to come back again.’ ”
That they will.
Richards is one of the nation’s most coveted athletes in the Class of 2019, with colleges recruiting him for both sides of the ball. He checks in as the No. 5 athlete in the 247Sports composite, and Rivals ranks him as the top all-purpose back in the country.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Richards holds nearly 20 offers, including Auburn and Miami, but Alabama has to yet to pull the trigger. Running backs coach Joe Pannunzio evaluated him twice this month at Wellington High School.
Richards remains high on the Crimson Tide despite the delay on their offer, and it’s not just because Saban left him starstruck a couple years ago.
“I treat every offer like it’s my first school,” said Richards, who added LSU on May 15. “I don’t care if it’s Alabama or FAU, no disrespect to those programs. I really give every school a fair opportunity to recruit me because I’m just thankful for it all.
“Obviously an offer from Alabama would be huge and mean a lot to me personally. It’s something I’m working for and my coach thinks it will happen this summer. Mark Ingram was a big reason I started playing running back. I watched him growing up and he really introduced me to the position. Before that, I was a corner.”
— Zach Abolverdi (@ZachAbolverdi) April 26, 2018
Wellington coach Tom Abel first saw Richards play in eighth grade during a youth football game. Spectators told him to watch out for “Ahmmon’s brother” when he arrived at the field, and Richards quickly caught the attention of Abel.
“I watched Mark weave his way down the sideline and take it to the house,” Abel said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, that kid is pretty special. Just like his brother.’ ”
Ahmmon Richards starred for Abel at Wellington, hauling in 144 receptions for 2,722 yards and 39 touchdowns in his final three years of high school. He was teammates with his younger brother as a senior, though it almost didn’t happen.
Abel planned to play Mark-Antony on junior varsity in 2015 because he wanted to groom the freshman a little bit. But the Wolverines had a running back shortage in practice one day, so Abel decided to call up the ninth grader and give him a shot.
“First play, he put his foot in the ground and took off,” Abel said. “I looked at our JV coach and said, ‘Yeah, he’s not going back down. He’s staying with us.’ We’ve had a great relationship ever since and he will be a four-year varsity player, just like his brother.”
And like his brother, Mark-Antony’s recruitment is expected to come down to the wire. He plans to announce his top 10 this summer and already those schools written down in his phone.
“I’m not ready to release it yet,” he said with a smile.
Richards added that he will make his commitment after his senior season. He’s still in the process of figuring out what position he wants to play and which schools have the best scheme for his desired spot.
“That’s the most stressful part of being an athlete. My dream was to play running back in the NFL and in college, but sometimes you have to open your mind. When Ohio State tells you, ‘You’re a superstar corner,’ it really makes you think.
“You see [former OSU cornerback] Denzel Ward get drafted in the first round and you think, ‘I can do the same thing.’ But I’m trying to figure out what position I’m going to play. I’m still kind of undecided.”
Auburn and Miami are recruiting Richards for both sides of the ball, though the Hurricanes initially wanted him as a defensive back. Florida is selling Richards on being used like former Gators WR Percy Harvin, and Georgia also wants him as a receiver.
“There’s a lot of coaches who want him to play defense and a lot of coaches who want him to play offense,” Abel said. “I’m going to tell you wherever he goes, he could do either or. That’s not up to me, but the college coach and him whenever he picks a school.
“Now, I’m partial to offense. There’s a reason he’s the No. 1 all-purpose back in the nation. I love the way he runs and I’d love to see him play college ball on the offensive side, but that’s for him and his college coach to decide.”
Richards said his deciding factors will be how often he communicates with his potential head coach and position coach, the position they want him to play and how their system fits his skill set.
With a clear criteria in mind, he doesn’t believe the decision will be hard for him.
“I think it’s going to be easy,” Richards said. “Seeing my brother go through it gives me an idea of what to do and what not to do. I’m going to do all the ‘to-do’ things and make it easy on myself.”
He claims no leaders at this time, but Miami is considered the favorite because of his brother being in Coral Gables. However, his coach dismisses that notion because of Ahmmon’s pro potential.
“He has the possibility of playing at the same school as his brother. Don’t know if he’ll have the possibility to play with his brother because he can go to the NFL after next season,” Abel said. “Miami is definitely appealing because of that, but Mark wants to cut his own path no matter where he goes.
“We went through the process with his brother and he saw how he handled it. The only thing I tell him all the time is, ‘Just be Mark.’ That’s it.”