Sheldon Richardson has waited a long time.
The junior defensive lineman was originally recruited as a high school senior in 2009, but had to wait more than two years before he eventually made it to Missouri this August. He needed to improve his academic standing in order to play for the Tigers, so he spent two seasons playing at the College of the Sequoias in California.
In addition to Richardson's move in to the starting lineup, there were other minor tweaks to the Missouri depth chart released Monday. Even with another missed field goal against Iowa State, Grant Ressel is the team’s sole No. 1 kicker. The “or” between Ressel and Trey Barrow on last week’s depth chart has been removed.
Wide receiver T.J. Moe returned both kickoffs and punts through the season’s first five games. He was listed at the top spots in both positions last week, but on Saturday it was running back Henry Josey returning kicks. This week, Josey is listed as the top kickoff returner, and defensive back E.J. Gaines is listed as the top punt returner.
Also on Monday, tight end Michael Egnew was named to the John Mackey Award midseason watch list. The award is handed out to the nation’s top tight end each season. Last season, Egnew was a finalist for the award, which went to Arkansas’ D.J. Williams. The list of finalists is set to be announced Nov. 14.
He began this season listed behind returning seniors Dominique Hamilton and Terrell Resonno on the depth chart and faced another round of waiting to be the dominant force he was billed as coming out of high school.
Now, after an injury to a teammate, the wait is finally over.
Resonno suffered a sprained knee during Missouri's 52-17 victory over Iowa State on Saturday, and he won’t play in the upcoming game against Oklahoma State. Richardson will replace him as a starter.
This isn’t to say that Richardson hasn’t seen the field. He has played in each of the Tigers' games, and he has made several good plays in the process. He’s been credited with 14 tackles, half a sack and 3.5 tackles for loss in six games this season. Richardson has even broken up a pass attempt this year.
“He’s raised his level of play,” defensive lineman Jacquies Smith said. “Game by game, he’s getting a whole lot better. That comes with repetition. We just expect him to come in, keep giving us what he’s been giving us … and do even more now that his role’s been enhanced, with Resonno going down. He’s got to give us everything he’s got.”
When Richardson was recruited in 2009 as the top-rated player in the state, expectations were high. It might have been mildly surprising to learn, for a football enthusiast in 2009, that Richardson’s first start wouldn’t come until the seventh game of the 2011 season.
Defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski said he has been happy with Richardson’s play, but warned that those massive expectations aren’t going to be immediately realized.
“Expecting him to step in here and be the all-conference player I feel like he could be some day, that’s not realistic ...,” Kuligowski said. “He’s working his way towards that.”
Teammates have been giving Richardson advice all season, and, now that the junior is set for his first career start, Hamilton offered more words of wisdom.
“I’m looking for a big game,” Hamilton said. “Come out there and prove to all these guys that you’re good. You’re going to dominate and live up to it and go out there and make plays.”
Saturday, Richardson will be featured in the starting lineup video montage at Memorial Stadium. His name will be announced as a starting defensive tackle, and fans will see him on the scoreboard. He said he isn’t doing anything too funny in his video, just standing there tucking the football.
He said his family will be in the stands, and that he's trying to get as many people that he knows there as he can.
“It’s going to be real good,” he said. “It’s going to be a real fulfilling moment for me.”