COLUMBIA — After a lopsided loss to South Carolina, Missouri’s football players left the field in silence. They walked through the tunnel at the southwest end of Williams-Brice Stadium and into the visitors’ locker room, with heads down and stomping cleats echoing against the walls. Missouri athletics director Mike Alden stood at the entrance to the dressing room, patting a few of them on the back as they plodded by.
Among them was Sheldon Richardson. Like the rest, he kept his head down, saying nothing.
Of course, the silence is nothing new for the standout defensive tackle.
After Missouri’s season-opening win over Southeastern Louisiana, Richardson created a stir, saying that upcoming opponent Georgia played “old man football” and asserting his team would be dominant in the SEC.
Missouri lost to Georgia, and since that game more than three weeks ago, Richardson has been held out of all postgame news conferences and weekly media sessions. As Missouri spokesman Chad Moller said at the time, Richardson “earned himself a vacation.”
While that vacation seems to be ongoing, the senior defensive tackle has let his play do the talking in the weeks since. Richardson has 24 tackles thus far this season, including seven tackles, a forced fumble and half a sack in Missouri’s loss to South Carolina on Saturday.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel insists that despite his ban from the media, Richardson has been a model citizen in recent weeks.
“I get reports every day. I get academic reports. I get weight room reports. I get training room reports. If your name doesn’t come across my desk, that’s good. If it comes across, that’s not very good,” Pinkel said during the team’s media day Monday.
“His isn’t coming across at all. I think he’s being very responsible and doing a lot of good things.”
Just because he isn’t talking to the press, though, doesn’t mean that Richardson isn’t talking.
“Sheldon comes in with the mentality that he’s going to practice full speed every play. He brings the competition to where if he beats you, he’ll come up to you and say, ‘Come on, man. I’m trying to make you better. Let’s get this going,’” offensive lineman Mitch Morse said. “And as a teammate, that’s good because he’s going to bring his best every play.”
Morse and defensive end Brad Madison each listed Richardson as one of the team’s leaders, both in how he prepares for games and performs on the field. Madison, in describing Richardson’s leadership ability, says that he makes it easy for his teammates: just watch and learn.
“Anyone who can make plays like that, you just try to follow him,” Madison said.
Pinkel voiced similar sentiments, describing how he has several times used Richardson’s play as examples to the rest of his defense, showing them how best to be successful.
The coaching staff shows tapes of No. 34, all 292 pounds of him, lumbering 25 yards downfield to catch a receiver from behind. He can pursue like a linebacker, clog running lanes like a brick wall and get around the edge with the quickness of a defensive end.
Richardson’s play has risen in his second year in Missouri’s program. Morse, who lives next door to him and tries, mostly in vain, to block him every day in practice, saw it coming all along.
“I knew he was going to be making plays,” Morse said. “You hear ‘Sheldon Richardson’ more than any other person on the team on the loudspeaker.”
You hear his name, but not his voice. While Richardson has certainly stood out in the interior defensive line, he continues to keep a low profile.
The interviews and controversial sound bites have been replaced by tackles and forced fumbles. Pinkel, who said he hasn’t decided when Richardson’s media privileges will be restored, seems to like things better that way.
“He has remarkable movement for a guy that weighs 292 pounds, give or take two or three per day. It’s nice to see,” Pinkel said. “He’s become a dominating player.”
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.