Big plays in small package

Minnesota defender Steven Richardson is only listed at 6 feet, but he looms large.

Steven Richardson runs onto the field at TCF Bank Stadium Thursday, September 3.

Liam James Doyle, Daily File Photo

Steven Richardson runs onto the field at TCF Bank Stadium Thursday, September 3.

Mike Hendrickson

Despite his size, it wasn’t hard to notice defensive tackle Steven Richardson on the field Saturday.
 
Against Colorado State University, the sophomore filled up the stat sheet, ending with a forced fumble, a sack and three tackles for loss.
 
“Richardson played one of the best games I’ve ever seen a defensive tackle play,” head coach Jerry Kill said. “He played flat [out] unbelievable, highlight video [good]. I mean,
unreal.”
 
Defensive tackle is normally a position that requires a taller-than-average player, but that doesn’t stop the 6-foot Richardson from being able to take over games. He’s listed as the shortest defensive lineman on Minnesota’s roster, and he was shortest among the Gophers defensive line starters Saturday by at least four inches.
 
Richardson said he sees this as an advantage, as offensive linemen have a hard time getting to his eye level. He said his height may have helped him draw hands-to-the-face penalties against Colorado State.
 
“Any time you’re strong and fast, you got a chance to be a pretty good football player,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. “For his position, he’s extremely strong, and he’s extremely quick and fast. That’s one position that height is overrated.”
 
On another play during the game, the 291-pound Richardson showed off his speed. He chased down a running back after a screen pass, 17 yards past the line of scrimmage, and made the tackle.
 
“I wasn’t thinking I was actually going to make [the play],” Richardson said. “My mindset was to just have [my teammates’] back in case they didn’t make it.”
 
Richardson’s remarkable game also included the team’s only quarterback hurry of the afternoon and a fumble recovery at the beginning of the second quarter. 
 
While he is only a sophomore, Richardson has now started in the Gophers’ last 14 games. He saw action as a true freshman after injuries hit the Gophers defensive line in their season opener against Eastern Illinois University last year.  
 
Even though he has impressed early on, Claeys said he would like to see more consistency from Richardson.
 
“You can’t judge his worth on two games,” Claeys said. “I’m not saying he’s not a good player, but he has got to do it consistently before you start comparing it to other people
in the room … as a young player, he has to learn how to do it every snap, every game.”
 
In high school, Richardson said he had offers from Western Michigan University, Northern Illinois University and Minnesota. He said he believes if he was three inches taller, he might’ve received more offers.
 
But even if he had those extra three inches, Richardson said he still thinks he would be playing for the Gophers.
 
“I love this place,” Richardson said. “Even if I had got other offers, I probably would’ve ended up here.”
 
Extra inches or no extra inches, Minnesota is happy to have Richardson now, where he is making an oversized impact on defense.
 
“If he played like that every week he’d be a first-team All-American,” Kill said. “He’s a beast to handle right now.”