HINESVILLE, Ga. — Richard LeCounte III has what every college coach wants in a player but few have. UGA wants it. Auburn wants it. Clemson wants it. Ohio State wants it. Everyone does.
The attraction to the Liberty County High School 4-star athlete goes beyond rare speed and change-of-direction and a tenacity that resembles a swarm of Coastal Georgia no-see-ums on any day that ends in y. Richard’s gift is that he plays football with an unusual purpose. It amplifies all of his physical ability.
Richard LeCounte III is a 4-star athlete with a chance to be a 4-time all-state selection. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
What does he play for? He honors his beloved grandmother, Alberta LeCounte. She passed away suddenly when he was eight years old.
Football is a game for tough men and every time Richard LeCounte plays he’s got an instant switch when he dons his jersey. The reason he wears No. 4 is something his parents never talk about. The 6-foot, 175-pounder can just now barely talk about it.
“Every time I have a decision I think about what she would say,” Richard LeCounte III said. “Every time I put this jersey on or whatever I am doing she is always watching over me. …. She’s protecting me and watching me and keeping me covered every step of my way.”
That jersey number designates the month (April) his grandmother was born. She was a well-respected lieutenant in the Liberty County Sheriff’s Department.
She even went the extra mile during her last shift to help out someone in need. Gary Richardson, a former deputy in the department, said an individual was passing through town who was suffering from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. His grandmother comforted and helped him orient himself and gave him a place to sleep while deputies tracked down his family.
Alberta LeCounte was a night shift detention officer and supervisor at the county jail. The Florida-Times Union reported she collided with a vehicle in the oncoming lane. Witnesses said she appeared to have fallen asleep at the wheel or suffered a medical event as she never appeared to slow down or return to her lane.
The impressive stuff
He was born on September 11, but his family never celebrates his birth on that day because they feel it is not an appropriate day to throw a party because of the 9/11 tragedy. Yet the day he was born will always be memorable. His mother Erika LeCounte was very pregnant and working in Brunswick when she went into labor.
The family’s in-network insurance plan didn’t have any providers in that area. So Erika drove the approximate 80 miles to a Savannah hospital with other kids in the car. When Richard was born, his grandmother was there. She signed his birth certificate.
Richard LeCounte III received his first offer from Florida after the first game of his freshman year. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
LeCounte is rated as the nation’s No. 2 athlete for 2017. He really likes UGA. The same can be said for Clemson and Ohio State.
His former teammate Raekwon McMillian is a standout linebacker at Ohio State. The two are so close that they pray together each week with the help of FaceTime. LeCounte made it to UGA on unofficial visits for the South Carolina, Southern and Alabama games. He also likes Clemson, but can’t prioritize any one school yet.
“I’m just really not in love with any school,” Richard LeCounte III told DawgNation. “I can’t say I have a leader if one day I love Clemson and the next day I feel the same about UGA.”
He told DawgNation he will make his commitment in December.
“I’ve been coaching for 20 years and he’s one of the most explosive players I’ve ever seen,” Wayne County coach Jody Grooms said.“You better know where he is every damn play. He’s the best player I have seen this year. He’s the best player I saw all last year, too.”
That’s saying a lot, but most scouts think his best position will be at free safety. He currently plays receiver, safety and returns kicks for Liberty County. He’s also a situational quarterback. He thinks his game and mentality best fits a role at cornerback or safety.
His head coach at Liberty County High School played tight end at UGA. So when Kirk Warner says he saw “off the charts” football intelligence and instincts in LeCounte as a middle schooler that few prep seniors have, it means something.
Warner, who played in 42 games at UGA from 1986-1989, compared his style and instincts to future first-ballot NFL Hall of Famer Ed Reed.
“I told UGA assistant coach Mike Ekeler you can’t compare him to nobody,” Grooms said. “I don’t care what you are playing he is the first pick. He can do anything.”
Honor thy grandmother
When his grandmother passed away, an eight-year-old Richard LeCounte had to obtain a new suit the day before her funeral. His mother didn’t know his size. That was the sort of thing his grandmother always did for him.
Richard LeCounte III (left) interacts with Mark Richt at Dawg Night back in July. He learned how to drive when he was nine years old. (Rob Saye / AJC)
Additionally, Richard LeCounte sang at his grandmother’s funeral.
He got up and sang ‘Cooling Waters,’” his father Richard LeCounte Jr said. “She loved that song. It was real deep and a special moment for our family.”
LeCounte carries that faith forward, even when on long recruiting trips. He will access his Bible app and screenshot scripture to send to his mother to debate passages.
His mother also wears No. 4 at every one of his games. That number also honors her as she was born on March 4.
“Any great accomplishments he might have where he might wish his Grandma was here you will always see him express himself on social media that he says that he knows she was with me,” Erika LeCounte said.
Jeff Sentell covers UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges.