Missouri’s 31-27 loss to Syracuse was devastating for fans, players and students at Mizzou, but it was made even more troubling because how the game was lost, and what it meant.
Mizzou lost because defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, a product of Gateway Tech, was suspended because he didn’t go to class, and then wouldn’t do the work to make up for missing the class. Because he wasn’t there (he IS Missouri’s best defensive player), the Tigers didn’t have enough on that side of the ball to hold off Syracuse.
Mizzou knew what they were getting when they got Richardson. He couldn’t qualify coming out of high school, and spent two years at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, California, trying to get his academic situation in order. Before re-committing to the Tiger program, Richardson instead told USC he was going there. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that “the main reason was his belief that USC and well-respected defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin would best prepare him for a transition to the NFL after just one season.”
Richardson told Rivals.com “Missouri had a rough season the year I was supposed to be there. They ended up 8-4 or 8-5 and lost a bowl game to Navy. That rocky start made me wonder if it was a good fit. Then I started looking at the players they sent to the NFL. I mean, USC produces even more of those players and they have more tradition.”
Obviously, Richardson changed his mind and signed a letter of intent with Mizzou in December of 2010, but didn’t have his grades in order and got off to a delayed start with the Tigers. He wasn’t dominant last year, but was this year. There was no way, based on his stated goals, that he was going to return to Mizzou, and apparently he quit going to class.
His decision to not go to class won’t affect his draft stock much. Richardson will likely be a first round pick in April’s draft, and he’ll get his wish to play more football. But there’s tons of collateral damage because of his actions. Eighteen seniors were honored by Mizzou before Saturday’s game, and unless the Tigers pull off a major upset at Texas A&M next Saturday, their careers won’t be capped by a bowl game because of the selfishness of one player.
These guys probably aren’t going to the NFL. Do you think Richardson cares at all about what he’s done to them?
Sixth year senior Elvis Fisher, the left tackle who was forced to miss the 2011 season after rupturing the patellar tendon in his left knee during preseason practices, won’t get to play one more post-season game. Fisher worked tirelessly to come back from the injury this season, then was hurt again in the Georgia game. Once again, he poured blood, sweat and tears into Tiger football and got back into the lineup. Fisher was stellar against Syracuse, protecting quarterbacks James Franklin and Corbin Berkstresser and opening holes for running back Kendial Lawrence. But he was let down by a defense void of its most important piece.
Richardson hurt defensive teammate, redshirt senior linebacker Will Ebner, who has given his health to Mizzou football. He missed most of last year with a concussion, and was given an extra year of eligibility. In 2010, he battled a foot injury and a neck strain, but still played eleven games for the Tigers. Ebner played his heart out on Saturday, trying to make up for the unnecessary absence of his teammate. Ebner was an absolute warrior for the Tigers, but he won’t be able to play in a bowl game after his senior season without a win at College Station.
Another linebacker, Zaviar Gooden, completed his degree last May, and played this season as a graduate student. Gooden was one of the best players at his position Mizzou has ever had, he’s another victim of Richardson. He likely won’t be able to play a bowl game in his last year with the Tigers, either.
Chaminade product Jack Meiners had to battle injuries simply to get on the field in 2012. He was never a regular starter, and doesn’t have first round talent like Richardson. He came back from injuries this year, committed himself to the academic requirements of the program, and got on the field. And his last chance to play in a bowl game next month went by the boards because of the selfishness of his teammate.
Another St. Louis area product, T.J. Moe, had a great career at Mizzou. He didn’t put up the same kind of numbers after Blaine Gabbert left, but was always a safety valve for the quarterback, and a heartbeat for the offense. Moe loves the program. He was seen crying with Coach Gary Pinkel before the game, and admitted that senior day affected the quality of his play for a while. Moe was all in. It wasn’t about him; it was about his teammates, his coaches, his classmates and his state. He would have dearly loved to play one extra game wearing the black and gold.
There are other stories. Rolandis Woodland took the same path as Richardson. He went to prep school and came to Mizzou despite overtures from other schools. Woodland went to class, compiled a great GPA, and was patient despite never getting a chance on the field. Did he quit on his teammates like Richardson? Nope. Woodland is on the sidelines, ready to go every week, displaying a great attitude.
Defensive end Brad Madison was supposed to have a great year, after his breakout campaign replacing Aldon Smith. He didn’t complain, was workmanlike, and did what he was supposed to do. Offensive lineman Mark Hill would have given anything for Richardson’s opportunity, but injuries limited Hill to just eight career games before his career ended.
I’m sure Sheldon Richardson doesn’t care what he’s done. His focus was always to go to the NFL, and his focus was always on Sheldon, not on his team or his teammates.
I hope someday, somewhere, when he’s matured a little bit, someone will point out to him that he ruined the end of a lot of guys’ football lives. Most of these seniors won’t play again after Saturday’s game at Texas A&M. It didn’t have to be that way. They could have played in a bowl game in their senior years. But Sheldon Richardson was too selfish to help them enjoy one more glorious day of being a college football player. That’s his fault. I hope someday he’ll understand that and will feel just a little remorse.