Florida QB Richardson ready for better health, more heroics

Gainesville, Florida – No more backflips before a game. No more hotel dances. No more unnecessary punches.

Anthony Richardson is now Florida’s undisputed — and still unproven — starting quarterback, a budding star who has already become a household name sitting near the top of several 2023 NFL mock drafts.

He is big. He is fast. He has a talent for his hand. He is smart. It is polished. He’s a hometown hero who grew up in Gainesville and is eager to take the coveted job in front of longtime friends and beloved family members.

He is everything the rebuilding Gators need and everything opposing defenses fear. He just needs to stay healthy, something he was unable to do as a backup last season.

“It’s always bothered me,” Richardson said a few days before Florida opened the season against No. 7 Utah. “It’s not a good feeling when you can’t contribute to the team, you’re not healthy because I hate getting hurt, everybody does.”

The 6-foot-4, 232-pound Richardson flashed in a backup role behind Emory Jones last season, running wild against Florida Atlantic and South Florida before a hamstring injury sidelined him for two games.

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He got a solo start in late October against Georgia’s generational defense. But he turned the ball over three times in a two-minute span late in the second quarter and then suffered a concussion after halftime.

He was scheduled to return the following week at South Carolina, but sprained his right knee dancing at the team hotel the night before the game and was scratched. He returned to action three weeks later against Florida State and rallied the Gators to a victory. But he was done for the season after arthroscopic knee surgery two weeks later.

His season can best be described as a promising start to a career that never found a real rhythm due to repeated setbacks.

However, Richardson has drawn comparisons to 2010 Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton. Richardson welcomed the flattery because Newton was his idol growing up.

“Honestly, I feel great,” Richardson said. “He’s been my favorite since fifth, sixth grade. Just being compared to him makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I’m doing something right. … They think I’m going to be just as good as him, so hopefully I can do that and show people what I can do.”

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Richardson finished with just six touchdown passes and five interceptions last season. He also earned three points.

First-year Florida coach Billy Napier was quick to temper the growing expectations surrounding the centerpiece of his offense.

“I know we all want to put a crown on his head,” Napier said. “The guy threw 33 passes in his career. The great quarterbacks at the University of Florida, they’re running 33 a game, so I think we’ve got some work to do there.”

It starts with keeping Richardson healthy. He promised to give up the backflips before the game that amazed fans and teammates. He insisted he won’t be dancing “like that” during the season. And he even learned how to slide, something he rarely did in 2021.

The Gators need him to be smart and avoid taking shots in the open. After all, backup quarterback and Ohio State transfer Jack Miller is out for at least the first two games of the season after thumb surgery.

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Jones transferred to Arizona State in the spring, clearing the way for Richardson to take over after a year in which Florida fans clamored for him every week. Now it’s Richardson’s show — he had to beg his teammates to get enough tickets for his friends and family to witness his first start in the swamp — and it starts on a huge stage against the defending Pac-12 champions.

“I expect to see great things,” tight end Dante Zanders said, comparing Richardson to dynamic New York Giants wide receiver and 2021 first-round pick Kadarius Toney. “He’s the Kadarius Toney of the quarterback position. He has a hand on it. He can make incredible throws off his back foot, run, everything.

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