Unnoticed in stats, Steven Richardson makes impact on Minnesota defense

Richardson heads home this weekend to play against Northwestern.

Gophers defensive lineman Steven Richardson navigates the field at TCF Bank Stadium on Oct. 8, 2016.

Alex Tuthill-Preus

Gophers defensive lineman Steven Richardson navigates the field at TCF Bank Stadium on Oct. 8, 2016.

Drew Cove

Defensive lineman Steven Richardson hasn’t showed his impact in his season stats, but his presence on the defensive line has opened gaps for other Minnesota rushers to come through. Richardson has just 18 total tackles this season and only 2.5 of them for a loss.

Richardson and the Gophers face off against their second ranked opponent of the season Saturday, No. 23 Northwestern. Richardson has had to deal with his different role as the Chicago native goes up against the Wildcats.

When the Minnesota defensive linemen is double teamed on the line of scrimmage, he doesn’t try to overpower both blockers at once.

“[I’ve been] mainly focusing on one guy,” Richardson said. “Beat one guy, then the other guy doesn’t matter. It also works with having guys around you, I felt like the other [defensive] linemen have been helping me out.”

He made an impact right away in his Gophers career, making 23 tackles and two sacks in 13 games in 2014. He had his most successful season in 2016 when he led the Gophers and the defense to a 9-4 record and a bowl game win with 31 tackles in 13 games. Most notably, he had seven sacks for 46 yards that season.

In 2017, Richardson doesn’t have as many tackles, and he has no sacks through 10 games. That hasn’t been for a lack of effort or overall effectiveness, though.

“When people gameplan [the Gophers], watch how many times they double-team Steven Richardson,” said head coach P.J. Fleck. “It would probably be 90 percent of the time he’s got two people on him.”

Fleck said that is justified, because Richardson is the best player on the team.

When Fleck was at his previous stop, Western Michigan, his team was one of three to offer Richardson.

Defensive coordinator Robb Smith feels the same as Fleck. Smith said Richardson never complained, and that he always does his job no matter who the opposing offense throws at him.

Since his freshman season, Richardson has seen three different head coaches lead his team. Now under Fleck, Richardson’s role has changed, and he has become more vocal due to Fleck’s leadership style.

“I’ve been talking a lot more. I know last year I didn’t really talk at all.” Richardson said. “[I’m] being a more vocal leader, I was more of a leader by example, [and] I’m still doing that but… having a voice in the room is definitely what I’ve been learning.”

The defensive line has been able to stop many opposing offenses short of a touchdown for the bulk of the season. Minnesota ranks fourth in the Big Ten in red zone defense. 

New addition to the defensive line, Carter Coughlin knows the respect that Richardson gets in the locker room.

“He’s a ‘quiet giant,’” Coughlin said. “He’s one of those guys that when he speaks up, everybody respects him. There’s guys that are always hooting and hollering, but when Steve talks and says something, you could hear a pin drop.”

Richardson has been making an impact on and off the field, and after his team’s high-scoring victory this weekend, he heads home to play in Chicago one last time in college.

Richardson, an alumnus of Mount Carmel High School in Chicago, will return to his hometown to face off against the Wildcats, and he will have a lot of familiar faces in the stands.

He said family and friends, even some elementary school teachers, will be in attendance to watch him play. Going back home, specifically a short trip north of home in Evanston, Illinois, has another meaning for Richardson. 

The defensive lineman was not offered by his hometown Big Ten team, and Richardson takes the playing approach as he does against every team.

“You always have a chip on your shoulder — any team,” Richardson said. “It’s all about playing football now.”