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Missouri DT Richardson ready for NFL after huge junior year

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By Bob Bajek

Dreams drive individuals, providing them the motivation needed to achieve an important goal.

Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson’s dream was to play in the NFL. That has always been his one sole goal, and he will achieve that dream come April’s draft.

“That’s always been a dream of mine, ever since I was a little kid,” said Richardson, who loves football’s physicality and team focus. “I came and told everyone in my neighborhood, school, and family that I was going to play football when I grow up. ... I was one of those kids who put all his eggs in one basket.”

The 6-4, 295-pound Richardson is projected as a mid-first-round pick and arguably is the top defensive tackle available. The Mizzou product radiates immense confidence in his athletic abilities, something his family helped him develop while growing up in St. Louis.

His father, Michael, was a star football player for Sullivan High School (Mo.), and his older brothers, Shaun and Sherron, are also talented athletes. Richardson would eagerly play street ball every day against his brothers and their friends when he was 8 and they were 5-7 years older.

“I would surprise them,” Richardson laughed. “It might not be every play, of course they were bigger than me, so they would try to pick on me a bit. But I would be the little brother/little kid on the street that would always surprise the older kids and they were like, ‘Boy, you could play with us.’”

His parents enrolled him in Pop Warner, and he continued to impress by being the team captain, even though he was two years younger than everyone else.

After dominating in high school by excelling at multiple positions, Richardson’s grades weren’t good enough to enter Missouri, so he played for the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Calif. for two years while briefly switching his commitment to USC.

He missed Mizzou’s spring ball in 2011 and almost was late to training camp because the NCAA took a long time approving a community college class. During his first week, Richardson tore his left labrum when his teammate, OLT Justin Britt, caught him in an awkward spot.

2011 saw Richardson earn All-Big 12 honorable mention honors despite starting just two games. He had labrum surgery last January and the Mizzou trainers helped him “trim down 30 pounds” before training camp.

Opponents couldn’t stop the explosive Richardson at all in 2012, as the lightning-quick prospect amassed 75 tackles (10.5 for loss), four sacks, and three forced fumbles on his way to Associated Press first-team All-SEC honors.

“I felt I was ready to play in the NFL, period,” Richardson said about skipping his senior year. “College was a little too much fun, a little too easy for me. I feel like I needed to take my talents to the NFL and start trying against the big dogs.”

Former NFL defensive line coach/defensive coordinator George Dyer (1982-2003), who trained the Eagles’ Fletcher Cox last year, has been coaching Richardson to get him ready for the Scouting Combine. Dyer thinks Richardson’s game reminds him of Warren Sapp’s and Giants DT Shaun Rogers’.

“There is a tremendous athlete with a tremendous suddenness, which is what I always look for in a big man inside,” said Dyer, noting Richardson moves like a 260-pound end and can drop into coverage. “He’s got good speed, is a bright guy, and strong. He will use power, quickness. He’s got all the tools you need to be very, very, very good.”

Besides Richardson’s pass rushing, Dyer said he knows how to lighten the mood in a locker room while also being a very hard worker, something that’s “hard to pull off.”

Richardson stated he could bulk up to 310 pounds without losing his quickness, and wants to know a defensive system in and out.

“I don’t want to know just my defensive line position,” Richardson said. “I want to know where my linebackers will be and see how the defense flows. I play the game like water, in the flow of the game.”

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