Mizzou DT Richardson turning heads
OCT 02, 2012 1:53a ET
"I want my name along this wall right here," the junior defensive tackle told FOXSportsMidwest.com on Monday, two days after he turned Central Florida into a personal chew toy by earning nine tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, one fumble recovery and two quarterback hurries in a 21-16 victory. "I knew all those guys up there. I had a nice time when all those guys were still here -- when I first committed to Mizzou. Those guys put their work in. I've seen them put their work in."
Is there room for another face on that wall? Can a career that has included more twists than a highway in the Ozarks become one of the Tigers' best?
"I've yet to have my best game," Richardson continued. "I don't even think I've had a good game yet. So that's how I look at it. I always look at my mistakes and not what I've done well -- because I feel I'm supposed to do that."
There are many things Richardson can be behind a microphone: honest and enlightening, blunt and full of life. No Missouri player since Weatherspoon, a linebacker in his third year with the Atlanta Falcons, has taken a paint brush to as much text as the 6-foot-4, 295-pound bruiser from St. Louis, whom Scout.com called, "Likely the most athletic big man in the country," before he began a two-year detour at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Calif., prior to joining the Tigers last season.
But sometimes Richardson's breath can include too much bite. His "old-man football" jab at Georgia after a season-opening victory over Southeastern Louisiana made him infamous, even leading to black-and-red "Grown Man Football" T-shirts that mocked his slip of the tongue. Mizzou's mouth became the talk of the South in early September -- he apologized to Georgia coach Mark Richt on the field after the loss -- but he received no VIP treatment in Missouri coach Gary Pinkel's doghouse.
Last Saturday, Richardson's gag order was lifted after more than three weeks. Before then, though, the former five-star jewel let his stat lines speak for him far louder than his lips could.
Against Georgia: five tackles and one tackle for loss.
Against Arizona State: nine tackles, 1 ½ tackles for loss, ½ sack and one quarterback hurry.
Against South Carolina: seven tackles, ½ tackle for loss, ½ sack, one quarterback hurry and one forced fumble.
"You can just tell he's getting better and better every game," Missouri junior cornerback E.J. Gaines said. "The sky is the limit for that guy. He's definitely going to go on and make big strides. … You learn something after every win or loss. As a team, we learned something (after Georgia) -- not just Sheldon. Just coming in and playing better is what we have to do."
Progress has been made in that area. Richardson's profile in the Southeastern Conference has risen through the season's first month, but the most revealing part about his ascent is this: He expected to rocket into the conscience of the country's premier league all along. Spend a few moments asking him about his potential, and it's obvious he has more confidence than a lion paired against a T-bone steak.
On being one of the SEC's top defensive tackles: "I haven't paid any attention to it. I feel like I'm the best D tackle, period. So just because everybody else is saying it doesn't mean it's changing my mind. It's just how I feel as a competitor."
On freshman wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham's arrival outshining him: "I've got a name to uphold. I came here as that top recruit. I know I got knocked out of the spotlight when Dorial came. But to myself, I still hold myself as that No. 1 recruit that Mizzou ever had."
On motivation to play well after the "old-man football" comment: "I come with a high level of intensity every game -- no matter who I play. Georgia, Alabama, it doesn't matter. Anybody. Southeastern Louisiana got my ‘A' game."
"He's very, very gifted," Pinkel said. "His movement, for a guy who weighs 295 pound and how he runs is really unique. The great news is that he has worked really, really hard to be the best he can be. … I'm really proud of him. He has grown in the program."
Chances are strong that Richardson's growth will continue. He's second on the team with 33 tackles, behind senior linebacker Will Ebner's 41. His five tackles for loss are tied for second, behind Ebner's seven. His two sacks already match his total from last season. He's older, stronger, perhaps a bit humbled after an underwhelming 2011 campaign -- and he's not finished yet.
"Arguably, I would be one of the best defensive linemen that went here," said Richardson, when asked how he hopes his college career will be remembered. "I am trying to push myself to where I can be compared to Aldon Smith or Ziggy Hood, most definitely, and all the other great D-linemen that came."
Is there room for another face on that wall?
There can be if Richardson makes it so.
You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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