Rebranded Richardson ready to lead Florida rebound

Florida Athletics photo / Florida redshirt sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson starred for the Gators early last season but couldn't prevent them from stumbling to a 6-7 record that ended with a Gasparilla Bowl loss to UCF.

Florida redshirt sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson announced earlier this month that he was ditching the "AR-15" nickname due to its association with gun violence.

Last week at Southeastern Conference media days in Atlanta, he expounded on his reasoning.

"I'm not going to be able to play football for the rest of my life, and it was pretty much a business decision," Richardson said. "There is a lot going on, and that kind of played a part. AR-15 doesn't describe who I am.

"I'm Anthony Richardson, and that's who I've been since I was born. It's on my birth certificate, and I'm just trying to rebrand myself and become a better person."

If any SEC team could use a rebranding this season, it's Florida, which won eight league championships and three national titles in the 18 seasons from 1991 to 2008 but has been on a roller-coaster ride ever since. The Gators have endured three losing seasons in the past nine years, with the past two collapses following trips to the league title game.

Florida rode the offensive talents of quarterback Kyle Trask and tight end Kyle Pitts to a 44-28 win over rival Georgia and the 2020 Eastern Division title, but the 2-6 league mark compiled last season by the Gators was the program's worst since 1979, when Charlie Pell's first team in Gainesville lost all six conference contests.


Last season: 6-7 (2-6 SEC) Opener: Sept. 3 vs. Utah in Gainesville (7 p.m. on ESPN) Fun fact: Florida, Florida State and Miami combined to go 18-19 last season, the worst such record for that Sunshine State trio since a 16-18 mark in 1976, which was Bobby Bowden's first year with the Seminoles. Up next: Georgia

Last year's stunning plummet to a 6-7 overall record and the Gasparilla Bowl yielded the abrupt end of the Dan Mullen era after four seasons at Florida and 13 as an SEC head coach, and it resulted in the hiring of Louisiana-Lafayette's Billy Napier. The former Murray County High School quarterback is Florida's fifth coach since the Tim Tebow era, with no other conference program having experienced more change during this stretch.

"I like our football team, and I like how they've embraced the work," Napier said. "I think they love to compete. I think they're tough. I think we do have a little bit of an edge, because I think there's a sense that there's respect to be earned, if that makes sense."

Richardson is out to regain respect after erupting out of the gate last season as the backup to Emory Jones, amassing 160 rushing yards in the Florida Atlantic opener and tallying 115 rushing yards and 152 passing yards in the second game against South Florida. He suffered a hamstring injury against USF, however, which forced him to miss conference contests against Alabama and Tennessee.

Jones was stellar against the Crimson Tide and Volunteers, but he faltered in October, opening the door for Richardson to start Halloween weekend against Georgia and its top-ranked defense in Jacksonville. It was a nightmare for the 6-foot-4, 232-pounder from Gainesville, who lost a fumble and threw two interceptions for touchdowns as a scoreless first quarter became a 24-0 halftime lead for the Bulldogs.

"I feel like the blame should be put on me just being careless in the second quarter right before the half," Richardson said of that 34-7 loss. "That taught me a lot about football and decision-making and how to respect people. Hopefully, I can play a lot better this year.

"I feel like I'm a lot more confident. I'm enjoying life a lot, and these past few months I've been grateful for everything, because there are a lot of people who would like to be in my shoes, and I understand that. I'm never taking a day for granted."

Enjoying life and enjoying Jacksonville could be two very different things again this season, but the Gators first must navigate the SEC's trickiest start with home games against Utah, which won the Pac-12 last season, and Kentucky, which is coming off its second 10-win season in four years.

Richardson will give it his best as the clear-cut quarterback and the offensive leader, while Napier is looking to provide the same guidance that resulted in his final three Ragin' Cajuns teams going a combined 33-5.

"I just like the look in the eyes that I see," Napier said, "but it's year one with a new staff at a new place, a new group of players, a new roster - I mean, we're a work in progress. Every team in the country has its own set of issues and problems, right?

"We're all working through that, and that's exactly where we're at."

Contact David Paschall at