COLUMBIA — All it takes is a slight movement of a dummy football attached to a pole, and they simultaneously explode forward as one. Four large men driving a tackling sled as hard as they can until their coach mercifully blows the whistle.
The display of strength is impressive, but there’s someone missing — someone that Tiger fans have been salivating over for more than two years.
A brief look at the Sheldon Richardson story through the past two-plus years.
- Feb. 4, 2009: Richardson signs his letter of intent to play for Missouri
- June 2, 2009: Richardson confirms that he will have to attend junior college after failing to qualify academically. He enrolls at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Calif.
- Oct. 23, 2010: Richardson attends Missouri's homecoming win over Oklahoma, telling the St. Louis Post Dispatch, "It felt like home."
- Nov. 11, 2010: Richardson confirms that he has reneged on his commitment to Missouri and has verbally committed to USC.
- Dec. 15, 2010: Richardson changes his commitment back to Missouri.
- July 25, 2011: Coach Gary Pinkel says of Richardson, "We expect to see him on Aug. 4," at Big 12 Media Day
- Aug. 3, 2011: Richardson reports to camp at Missouri, but the school announces that he will be held out of practice until his eligibility is finalized.
They will have to wait a little longer.
Sheldon Richardson, a nationally-heralded defensive line recruit, was not in uniform for the opening practice of Missouri’s fall camp Thursday, but as the team awaits a final eligibility ruling from the NCAA, the rest of the Tigers' defensive linemen must push forward without knowing when, or if, Richardson will join them.
“There’s uncertainty,” senior defensive tackle Terrell Resonno said. “We’re working with the guys we have right now.”
Resonno and fellow-senior Dominique Hamilton are both returning starters, though Hamilton missed the second half of the season after breaking his ankle against Oklahoma. They are listed at the top of the depth chart for the interior defensive line, and even with the delay in Richardson's arrival, both are confident the Tigers' defense will still be strong up front.
They have reason to be. Along with Brad Madison, Jacquies Smith and Aldon Smith, the group helped Missouri hold opponents under 100 yards rushing in each of its first three Big 12 games last season. It was the first time in Gary Pinkel’s tenure that his defense had held conference opponents under that mark for three consecutive games.
“We’re getting a lot of media attention for the success we had last year and with all our guys coming back, that just makes us even more hungry,” Resonno said. “We worked very hard this offseason, just to get bigger, stronger, faster.”
The question remains, though, whether they can go from a good group without Richardson, to a potentially elite one with him.
How soon that happens is unknown at this time. Richardson has been formally accepted to MU and is listed in the student database. Coach Gary Pinkel said only that the team is “just waiting for paperwork to come in,” but there has been no indication as to when the program can expect to know any more.
What is not unknown is how high the expectations are for Richardson. Coming out of high school at St. Louis’ Gateway Institute of Technology in the spring of 2009, he was ranked as the No. 1 defensive tackle nationally and the country’s No. 4 player overall. After academic issues forced him to junior college at the College of the Sequoias in California, he was expected to join the team Thursday after completing one more class over the summer.
Cornerbacks coach Cornell Ford, the man who recruited Richardson, might know him best among the Missouri coaching staff. Ford was the one who waited patiently during the tenuous month this past winter when Richardson said he was switching his commitment to USC. Eventually, Richardson reconsidered, and Ford was waiting for him.
“It’s just a part of the recruiting process,” Ford said of the ongoing saga. “Every player’s different, and his process has taken a little longer than others, but that’s OK, and we’ll be excited when he gets here. He’s close to being here.”
The expectations are also high within the defensive linemen themselves. They are not immune to what fans have been hearing for the past two years.
“He’s the most hyped guy I’ve ever heard about,” Hamilton said. “We’re expecting him to come out and ‘Ndamakong Suh’ this place.”
Resonno didn’t compare Richardson to a former Heisman Trophy finalist, but he too held his potential teammate in high regard.
“I actually saw him play in high school,” Resonno said. “I can’t really speak on him because he hasn’t been out here yet, but I know when he gets here, he’s going to show the coaches something.”