Joe Davidson

Lineman Kooper Richardson becomes key player for Folsom

Folsom Bulldogs Kooper Richardson (79), waits to take the field before the game as the Oak Ridge Trojans host the Folsom Bulldogs, Friday October 30, 2015.
Folsom Bulldogs Kooper Richardson (79), waits to take the field before the game as the Oak Ridge Trojans host the Folsom Bulldogs, Friday October 30, 2015. Special to The Bee

Kooper Richardson is the nicest kid in any room.

He radiates with good manners and shy smiles, never mind that the Folsom High School senior right offensive tackle fills a door frame. He’s large enough at 6-foot-5 and 285 pounds to seemingly be able to hoist a freezer or a couch with little effort for a family move.

But nothing gets him going more than competition, inspired to please his father, Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson, and heeding the motto of his mother, Kelly, to “flip the switch.”

“Mom texts me that before games,” Richardson said Thursday as his team prepared for Saturday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship game at Sacramento State. Both teams are 13-0, and Folsom has won a state-best 29 consecutive games.

 ‘Flip the switch,’ ” Richardson said, “is for me to go out and play nasty football. Play intense, clean football, but mean football. I have to, or I’ll get pushed around.”

Richardson has spent his share of time on the bench or on his back, for years a big lad who was trying to get his body to do what he wanted. He was uncoordinated with two left feet and challenged to walk and chew gum at the same time. He was dominated in scrimmages as recently as last season.

But Richardson did something about it. He improved his conditioning and mobility with rigorous workout sessions with one-time Kings strength and conditioning coach Al Biancani. He studied the game. He hung out with Folsom teammates who had worked themselves into dominating players, including offensive linemen Cody Creason (on scholarship at Arizona) and Jonah Williams (headed to Alabama). Richardson watched how they prepared, worked in the weight room and got lighter on their feet.

“Those guys really helped me,” Richardson said. “Going against Jonah really, really helped me. There’s no one like Jonah. He’s one of a kind.”

Williams, a 6-5, 300-pound left tackle, might be the best player in Northern California, a five-star recruit considered the greatest high school lineman from this region. During early fall workouts, Williams mauled all comers, including Richardson, with his father imploring, “Go at him, Koop! Don’t be afraid of him! Take him on!” Richardson didn’t win those tussles – no one does against Williams – but he never stopped trying.

The Richardsons have a tight bond. They enjoy breaking down film together, finding ways to improve. And the effort has paid off, with Richardson highly regarded at his position and generating interest from Sacramento State, UC Davis, San Jose State, San Diego State, Fresno State and others.

“I grew up around this program and watched it all,” Richardson said. “Now it’s my turn. I’m really proud of what’s happened. I’m playing much better than I anticipated. I put the time in.”

Richardson said the best part is working with his father, who coaches the offensive line. And that line has been the foundation of Folsom’s success. The Bulldogs seek their fifth section championship and third CIF State Bowl win since 2010. There’s a lot of pressure being the coach’s son, especially when he’s also your position coach.

“It’s a blast doing this with my dad, a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Richardson said. “I know he’s proud of me.”

Said Kris Richardson: “Extremely proud. Koop’s worked so hard for this. The amount of improvement he’s had from the end of last season to now has been spectacular.”

Kris Richardson was a high school lineman in the Bay Area who also needed time to grow into his potential. He played at Diablo Valley College and New Mexico.

“I didn’t bloom until after high school,” the coach said. “I’ve had those discussions with Koop. At some point, the athletic ability catches up to your body, and then watch out.”

Even the coach marvels at how a nice kid can transform into a harsh one when he puts on the pads.

“Koop’s such a sweet kid,” Kris Richardson said. “I tell him that he’s got to be a little bit of a jerk in football. Don’t be a smack talker, but maintain your blocks, bully your guy legally until the whistle. Then it’s over. Then when the game’s over, you can be nice again.”