Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the February edition of Park Cities People.
Tony Richards has literally known SMU football coach June Jones his entire life.
Richards was born in Georgia in December 1995, during a week in which Jones was preparing to coach the Atlanta Falcons in a wild-card playoff game against the Green Bay Packers.
Richards’ father, David, was the starting right tackle for the Falcons that season. He missed practice the day Tony was born but played that weekend.
Eighteen years later, Tony is a senior offensive lineman at Highland Park High School who has verbally committed to play for Jones at SMU, which also happens to be his father’s alma mater. He will be able to sign a letter of intent to play for the Mustangs on Feb. 5.
When SMU coaches extended their scholarship offer, it was an easy decision for Tony. He had practically grown up around the program.
David was a top recruit from Highland Park, and later was standout for the Mustangs during the mid-1980s. A few years after his nine-year NFL career, he moved his family back to Highland Park and again became a supporter of SMU, meaning Tony received plenty of exposure to the campus and the football program.
“It’s a home team for me,” said Tony, whose mother was an All-American swimmer at SMU. “I’ve been going to their games for forever.”
Tony was something of a late bloomer in his high school career, despite his 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame. Because of a logjam at his position on the Scots’ roster, he didn’t become a starter until this season, when he was part of a group that reached the Class 4A Division I state semifinals. Early in the season, Division I coaches started showing interest.
Tony, who expects to redshirt as a freshman, said he hopes to study either engineering or business at SMU.
“It’s very familiar for him. At the end of the day, Tony felt very comfortable with SMU,” David said. “We’ve always left it up to him as to what path he chose. He’s already done all these things to set himself apart. He’s very much a different type of player than I was.”
For example, David said Tony is an athletic lineman and adept pass blocker, something that could be a good fit with the spread offense that Jones prefers at SMU.
“Tony is a very athletic offensive left tackle. He has size and great growth potential,” said Highland Park head coach Randy Allen. “He plays great technique and didn’t give up one sack this year. He’s a leader and extremely dedicated to the sport.”
Tony is proud of following in his father’s footsteps so far in his football career, but also is eager to carve out his own legacy. For example, he refused the chance to wear the same uniform number as David at Highland Park.
“It doesn’t really bother me,” Tony said. “Every little boy wants to be like their dad when they grow up, but at the same time, I want to be known more for my own accomplishments than what he did.”
Tony hopes to start that process this spring in track and field, when he aims to break a 29-year-old school record in the discus. The current record holder? David Richards.
“We’re proud of him for what he’s done on his own,” David said. “It’s time for me to pass the baton.”