COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Sheldon Richardson will finally get his first career start for Missouri this weekend.
"It's been a long time coming," Richardson said.
The 6-foot-4, 290-pound defensive tackle from St. Louis was rated the best player in the state and one of the best in the country when he signed a national letter of intent in 2009. He instead began his career at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Calif., after being declared academically ineligible.
After reneging on a verbal commitment to Southern California, Richardson finally hit the Missouri practice field in August. He will start Saturday against No. 6 Oklahoma State in place of Terrell Resonno, who injured his right knee last week.
"I just feel real happy and I feel real honored to have a starting job against Oklahoma State, against a ranked opponent," Richardson said. "Trust me, I have to work hard this week."
Richardson has been getting playing time as a backup in a rotation of defensive linemen so nerves shouldn't be a factor.
"It's huge," defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski said. "To go out there in your first game competition and expect to perform like a champion is ridiculous. When someone does get injured, you can have a guy that can step in, and even if that doesn't happen and next year comes around, now you've got experience playing and not just experience in practice."
Richardson has 14 tackles in six games with a half-sack and 3.5 total tackles for loss. He had four tackles, 1.5 for loss, and a quarterback hurry in last week's 52-17 victory over Iowa State.
Oklahoma State is second in the nation in scoring (49 points) and total offense (551 yards) per game.
But for Richardson, who said he loves the weekly grind of a Big 12 schedule, this week is like any other. The key to stopping the opposing offense starts with the defensive line.
"People really miss that part of the game," Richardson said. "I think it's starting to come out a little more. But the offensive line and the defensive line are the big stories for why these offenses and defenses are so good."
Richardson promised to bring enthusiasm to the defensive line, adding that he felt he needed to lift his teammates up after Resonno's injury. He realized his role may be limited to a spot start, and not to be the "messiah" his teammates jokingly referred to him as when he arrived.
"We're just asking him to come in and hold up his part, his piece of the puzzle," Kuligowski said. "I think he should be able to do that."
Richardson said he's getting acclimated to Division I competition. He wants to improve against double-teams but added "It's only a matter of time before I get the hang of everything."
"Halfway through the season, he is a lot different player now than he was at the beginning, and in three weeks, he'll be a lot better," coach Gary Pinkel said. "I think on the learning curve and the production curve, he is exactly (where) I thought he would be."