Austin Richardson was just a fifth grader when he first encountered Michael Hertz, then an assistant football coach at Porter Ridge High School.
Hertz had already coached two of Richardson’s older brothers and was looking forward to Austin joining the Porter Ridge program as a freshman in 2014. But instead, Hertz and Richardson would go their separate ways, only to be reunited two years later.
Their reunion at Porter Ridge in 2016 with Hertz now as the head coach would help Richardson attract the attention of East Carolina’s coaching staff. The Pirates would eventually offer a scholarship to the versatile Richardson last June and he accepted June 30th, joining the recruiting Class of 2018 as a cornerback. He chose ECU over an offer from Miami of Ohio.
“I know his family really well,” Hertz said. “I coached his older brothers. The older one was a great high school player and the conference defensive player of the year as a senior. So we knew about Austin right away. He played quarterback for the fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade teams at the middle school, which is across the street from the high school. He was fun to watch and everybody knew he was a pretty special kid.”
But just as Hertz was about to get a chance to coach this “special” talent at Porter Ridge, Richardson’s family moved to Texas just before the start of his freshman year.
So, for the next two seasons Richardson played varsity football for Morton Ranch High School in Katy, Texas. He was Morton Ranch’s backup quarterback as a freshman, then split time at quarterback, wide receiver and as a kick returner the following year.
Hertz, meanwhile, also departed Porter Ridge for stints as a linebacker coach at Providence and Independence high schools in Charlotte. He returned to Porter Ridge in January 2016 to become the school’s head football coach.
Soon after assuming his position at Porter Ridge, Hertz was delighted to learn Richardson was also coming back.
“I was sad to see him go because, obviously, he was a special kid,” Hertz said. “But I was obviously thrilled when he moved back for his junior year.”
Richardson, however, was a much different athlete when he reported for preseason practice before the 2016 season.
“Austin was always really quick and real fast,” Hertz said. “He has a track background as well. But when he left for Texas he wasn’t thick or strong enough to play at the college level. He was skinny as a rail. I think he was 160 pounds soaking wet.
“When he came back from Houston he was 6-1 or 6-2, and he immediately hit the weight room. Over the last year-and-a-half he’s put on 15 to 20 pounds. All his lifts have gone up, and he’s thickened up in the chest and back. Now he’s more physically prepared.”
Richardson proved to be a valuable asset in all three phases as the Pirates produced a 7-5 record and qualified for the state 4-A playoffs. On offense, he rushed 24 times for 172 yards and a touchdown, and caught 18 passes for 370 yards (20.6 yards per catch) and five scores. Defensively, Richardson made 25 tackles and two interceptions, then added 178 more yards on kick returns.
One of Richardson’s best performances of the season occurred in a 34-27 loss against Myers Park. He hauled in five passes for 109 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown reception.
“He just ran a quick slant route and our quarterback hit him in stride,” Hertz said, describing Richardson’s catches in the game. “He literally stopped on a dime and reversed his direction to avoid getting hit by two defenders. He ran up the sideline for a 20- or 25-yard gain.
“That was typical of Austin. It was indicative of what we’ve seen him do time and time again.”
Richardson was also a major contributor on the Porter Ridge track and field team, where he has competed in the 100-meter dash (career-best time of 10.83 seconds), 200 meters (22.24), high jump (5 feet, 6 inches), long jump (22-7) and triple jump (46-5).
A knee injury has kept Richardson on the sidelines for the first half of Porter Ridge’s 2017 seaso, but Hertz is hopeful he’ll be returning to action soon.
“He had a minor knee injury and had it scoped right before the beginning of the season,” Hertz said. “They just had to clean some stuff up in the knee. Hopefully, it won’t be a season-long thing. We’re just not sure yet. We think he should be healed and ready to go in a couple of weeks.”
Richardson is one of six secondary prospects pledged to the Class of 2018 so far, and the third projected cornerback.