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Chester native playing in Army-Navy game

Lonnie Richardson, a junior defensive back from Strath Haven High, is playing for Navy in tomorrow's annual classic at the Linc.

Navy's Lonnie Richardson.
Navy's Lonnie Richardson.Read more

MEAKA RICHIE will find her tranquil spot again tomorrow, some place safe around Lincoln Financial Field, a quiet area, where no one can see her. Richie will definitely make sure her son, Lonnie Richardson, doesn't see her.

Then again, Richardson, the Naval Academy's 5-11, 188-pound junior defensive back out of Chester, will probably have more immediate concerns - like extending the Midshipmen's current all-time record winning streak against Army to 12 straight games.

Navy leads the series, 57-49-7. Put it this way: The last time Army beat Navy was on a parking lot that was once Veterans Stadium, in 2001.

Before each game her son plays, Richie cries. She wells up with emotion over the fact that Richardson is carrying a service tradition set forth by his maternal great-grandfather, who fought in Korea, and his maternal grandfather, who fought in Vietnam. More so, because Richie knows how close Richardson, a 2010 Strath Haven High graduate, came to not being accepted to the Naval Academy.

Richardson suffers from a slight defect he wasn't even aware of until he underwent a Navy test his senior year of high school.

He's color blind.

"I didn't find out until I came here to Navy," said Richardson, a special-teams demon who will be playing in his first Army-Navy game. "When I was little, my mother always used to wonder why I was never able to match any colors laying out clothes. Then I took the color test for Navy and got two out of 14 right. I remember going with my dad to take another test in Harrisburg and I failed that test, too."

But Navy wanted Richardson. They liked his character, a byproduct of his father, Reggie Richardson, and his mom. They considered his strong academics at Strath Haven, and the way he played.

He was presented with a waiver that allowed him to enter Navy.

"Navy really went to bat for me, they showed that they wanted me," Richardson said. "It does make you appreciate things that much more, knowing someone wants you, and that they want you bad enough that something like being [color blind] won't get in the way."

But it did fill the spring of his senior year of high school with a lot of anxiety. Richardson had put everything into attending Navy. When Midshipmen defensive line coach and recruiter Dale Pehrson visited Reggie's home to offer a scholarship, Lonnie told him he would think about it.

"Yep, coach Pehrson left and I gave Lonnie not even 2 minutes to think about it; coach didn't even pull out of the complex when Lonnie called him back to tell him he was going to accept," Reggie recalled with a laugh. "Lonnie was always a special kid. Then you find out how special when he told me everything they go through at the academy. They're not like regular student-athletes.

"To be honest, it does bring tears to my eyes when I see him in uniform. I always wanted the best for him. I was born and raised in Chester. You see the situation with Chester and where it leads kids. Then you see Lonnie, his day is crazy."

Reggie and Meaka know how strong lures can devour a young man in Chester. Lonnie has one relative in jail and there are many friends he knew growing up who have fallen into trouble.

When Richardson is home, men his father's age refer to him as "sir." He receives emails from adults he's known in Chester who encourage him with, "Keep up the hard work." A high school friend of Reggie's recently contacted him and asked if his son could meet Lonnie.

To Lonnie, Reggie and Meaka, that's pretty powerful.

"I'm going to be so charged up that I'm going to have to watch myself on Saturday," said Lonnie, who will have close to 15 family and friends at the Linc watching No. 3. "There are going to be people in the stands that have watched me play my whole life [and now will watch me play] in a prestigious game like the Army-Navy game. I want to make my mom and dad proud, but I want to do something for the city. I want to show people in Chester that hard work does pay off. I want to make the people in Chester proud."

Meaka will try to convince Richarson to wear his dress whites at home because "he looks so handsome in them." But he hates to wear them out of school, "because when I'm out of school, I'm out of school, and besides, my uncles tease me that I look like a milkman."

Tomorrow, Richardson won't have to do too much more to stir Meaka, who will be making the trek from Missouri, where she has been volunteering the last 2 weeks for a nonprofit to rebuild homes devastated by a tornado.

"I'll probably cry before I go to the game, like I do before I go to all of his games," Meaka said. "My son is going to be a part of history and that's amazing to me. He's this kid from Chester doing something with himself. Saturday will be special. Lonnie not only represents himself and his family. He represents the community and the United States."