Missouri Football: Former 5-Star DT Sheldon Richardson Brings Massive Potential

Tom DohertyCorrespondent IAugust 11, 2011

After four years of waiting, former 5-star defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson finally suited up for the Missouri Tigers in a practice session today. Missouri fans can collectively breath a sigh of relief.

Richardson has been the "white whale" for Missouri football fans over the past two years. As a senior at Gateway High School in St. Louis, Richardson exploded onto the national recruiting scene after giving the Tigers a verbal commitment in 2007.

Richardson was not only the No. 1 defensive recruit in the class of 2009, but he was the No.4 overall high school player in the country. He ranked higher than notable college players like USC's Matt Barkely, Alabama's Trent Richardson and Notre Dame's Manti T'eo.

Alas, while those players became stars for their respective programs, Sheldon Richardson became academically ineligible and just like that was headed to junior college. Richardson enrolled at the College of the Sequoias where he recorded 65 tackles (17 for loss) as a defensive tackle this past season.

In an unprecedented turn of events, rumors surfaced that Richardson had spurned the Tigers in favor of the USC Trojans last December as a junior college recruit. It was a rumor that Sheldon had even confirmed himself and many Missouri fans were outraged.

But Richardson quickly changed his mind and reaffirmed his long-time commitment to Gary Pinkel for the 2011 season. After two high school seasons and two junior college seasons, Sheldon Richardson finally appeared to be headed for Columbia, MO.

A lot has changed since Richardson originally pledged to the Tigers. Before 2010, Mizzou was porous defensively with a struggling secondary and a middling pass rush. Since 2007, players such as defensive ends Jacquies Smith, Brad Madison and 2011 NFL first-round draft pick Aldon Smith have changed the defensive culture at Mizzou, especially on the defensive line.

Where Richardson might have been viewed as a savior a few years ago, he now enters the program as an added bonus. But that's not to say that the Tiger coaching staff and teammates alike aren't drooling at the potential Sheldon Richardson brings to their team.

He is extremely athletic for the defensive tackle position. He's 6'4", 310 pounds with an official 4.72 time in the 40-yard dash. As a high school senior, Richardson dominated for 88 tackles, 15 sacks and an interception as well.

It may surprise you to learn that Sheldon Richardson also spent time returning kickoffs for Gateway High School and caught 25 passes for 517 yards and seven touchdowns as a tight end. He simply is a one-of-a-kind athlete for his size.

Richardson has just completed to his required NCAA five day acclimatization period as a spectator at Missouri practices. Today, he was in full pads working with the fourth defense in 11-on-11 periods, but still taking reps against the first and second offensive units.

He's currently listed fifth on the depth chart at defensive tackle. How long will that last?

The Tigers hope it won't be long. If Sheldon Richardson proves to be as great as advertised, it won't be long before he's dominating college football like he could've been two years ago.