He was born with the name of Alexander Richardson, but the St. Peter’s Prep senior wrestler prefers to go by “Lenny.”
However, if you ask Lenny Richardson how he got his different name, you won’t get a suitable answer.
“I honestly don’t know,” Richardson said. “It comes from my family. All of the boys have names that are the same, Alan, Alexander, Alejandro, but everyone has a nickname. I became Lenny, but I don’t know why.”
St. Peter’s Prep head wrestling coach Anthony Verdi vividly recalls the first time he laid eyes on Lenny Richardson.
“I met the kid about eight or nine years ago,” Verdi said. “There was a youth wrestling tournament at the Teaneck Armory and I had some Prep kids wrestling in the tournament. But I heard over the loud speaker that there was a kid named Richardson from Jersey City wrestling, so I had to go look. I saw this little, scrappy kid and I introduced myself to his father.”
By that point, Lenny Richardson already had a background in wrestling, even though he’s a Jersey City kid and there aren’t a lot of wrestling programs for kids in Jersey City.
“My older brother [Alejandro] wrestled at Passaic Valley, so I used to go watch him. I wanted to be like him, so that’s how it started.”
Lenny’s father would bring Lenny to different tournaments all over northern New Jersey to give his son experience and knowledge in the sport.
By the time Richardson enrolled at St. Peter’s Prep three years ago, he was an already accomplished wrestler.
“He had quite a few years under him already,” Verdi said.
Richardson arrived at Grand and Warren at the same time with two other talented freshmen, namely Tony Pafumi and Francisco Colom.
“It was great to be part of that program,” Richardson said. “It was a big goal for me to be part of them. The competition was good and it made me want to get better.”
It also didn’t hurt having state-ranked standouts like Kevin Innis (second in the state at 215 pounds in 2010) and James Fox (the first-ever state champion from Prep, winning the 189-pound crown last year) in the same wrestling room.
“I wanted to be like them,” Richardson said. “They showed me what I needed to do to become a champion. I got the drive to succeed from them.”
Richardson has done nothing but succeed during his wrestling days at Prep. He’s collected more than 130 wins during his career, including four District 16 titles and three Region 4 gold medals.
However, none came bigger than last Saturday’s Region 4 145-pound championship bout against Mike Paskas of Rutherford.
With a little over a minute left in the match, Richardson found himself trailing Paskas, 5-2.
“He calmly walked over to our side and told us that he had it,” Verdi said. “He just went out and turned it on.”
Richardson scored five points in the final minute to earn a hard-fought 7-6 decision and his third straight Region 4 gold medal.
For his efforts, Richardson has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“He has good physical qualities,” Verdi said. “He’s probably quicker than most kids his size. But it’s really hard to find a tougher kid anywhere. That’s what makes him a cut above. He’s tough. He grinds on you. He has the ability to adapt as the match goes on. His toughness carries him.”
Richardson liked hearing that his coach believes he’s one tough customer.
“I’ll take that,” Richardson said. “I think I’m relentless. I never stop until it’s over.”
Richardson, who has already made a verbal commitment to attend Old Dominion University and wrestle there in the fall, wants to make sure to take that relentless style all the way to the medal podium in Atlantic City this weekend.
Richardson is one of an amazing nine Marauders headed to Atlantic City and Boardwalk Hall for the state championships.
“His weight class is absolutely loaded,” Verdi said. “He’s up against it.”
In the same class are two wrestlers, namely Corey Stasenko of South Plainfield and T.J. Miller of Camden Catholic, who defeated Richardson earlier in his career. Nick Gravina of Northern Highlands also looms as a threat.
“I’m not going to let that happen again,” Richardson said. “I feel good. I feel more comfortable. I’m ready. I’m in good shape and I’m going to make sure of that.”
Verdi also believes Richardson is ready.
“But I think he’s probably more focused than he’s ever been,” Verdi said. “This is his last shot at being a state champion. He’s trained hard and has that mental focus you need. I can see him standing on top of the podium Sunday. He has that much talent.”
Richardson knows what’s at stake. He’s been training for it for most of his life. The only thing left uncertain is whether his name is announced as Alexander or Lenny when he takes the mat in Atlantic City this weekend. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com