No. 21 Missouri welcomes DT Richardson - finally
Sheldon Richardson waited a long time to begin his career at Missouri. He can wait a little longer to trot onto the field with the starting lineup.
The former blue chip recruit is a second-stringer at defensive tackle for Saturday's opener against Miami of Ohio. Dominique Hamilton and Terrell Ressonno are the returning starters on a unit that ranked sixth in the nation in scoring defense at 16 points per game last season.
He doesn't seem to mind.
''Earn your stripes,'' Richardson said. ''Dominique and Terrell have been here for a long time, they earned their stripes a long time ago. It's kind of hard to come right in and take somebody's spot, especially when they're proven Big 12 players.''
Richardson missed the first eight practices waiting for the NCAA to clear him academically. Then he sprained his left ankle in a recent scrimmage. He'll likely end up in a rotation.
''Generally, the better they play, the more reps they get,'' coach Gary Pinkel said. ''I like to play a lot of guys.''
When Richardson signed with Missouri in February 2009 out of Gateway Tech in St. Louis, he was considered among the top prospects in the country and a can't-miss defensive star. He was the gem of a class that included wide receiver T.J. Moe, running back Kendial Lawrence, offensive linemen Justin Britt and Jack Meiners, defensive back Kip Edwards and defensive end Michael Sam.
As a senior in high school, Richardson piled up 19 sacks and scored six defensive touchdowns, while also playing tight end and returning kickoffs. He initially was listed as a 275-pound tight end at Missouri after Miami made a late bid offering him a chance to catch passes.
Richardson believes he's adjusted to the classroom demands even though after the first week he referred to schoolwork as a ''grind.''
The biggest thing he's learned from the odyssey is patience. For extra emphasis, Richardson said that word three times. He played only two games last season at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Calif., due to a wrist injury.
''Patience is a virtue,'' he said. ''It's going to come when you wait for it, and I had to wait.''
After all the discouragement and anxiety, Richardson plans on letting it all loose on game day.
''A lot of anxiousness, a lot more than you think,'' he said. ''But, I mean, it finally came. It's going to be crazy, I'll promise you it's going to be crazy. And I'm going to enjoy every minute of it because I haven't had it in two years.''
Richardson stopped wearing an ankle brace on Sunday and hopes to be near full strength for the opener.
''Every time we have treatment, I'm there, doing what I'm supposed to do and getting healed fast,'' Richardson said. ''I'll most definitely be at 100 percent for Saturday.''
Richardson's parents and brother will be watching on Saturday when Richardson makes his Division I debut. Encouraging words from his parents helped keep him going.
''They kept saying `You've got to keep your head up, keep going,''' Richardson said. ''When you're away from home you want everybody to come and support you like they used to. But I had to grow up.''