Before NFL staffers get to the stats, the sacks, the speed, the athleticism, there's one question that gets tossed Sheldon Richardson's way:
"Why'd you get suspended?"
After his pro day on Tuesday, in which he improved on his 40-yard time to run a 4.71, Richardson admitted that's the most common question he gets when he met with just about every team in the league. Richardson was suspended for Missouri's penultimate game of 2012, a close loss to Syracuse in mid-November.
Richardson said he knew the question would come, and he said he's answered it as honestly as he could. That answer, however, is going to remain in those meeting rooms and phone calls, as Richardson declined to explain why he was suspended for that game.
But that issue, like his Missouri career, is in the past. The future is bright for Richardson, a likely top-half of the first-round pick in April's draft. He's heard from "too many teams to name" already, and has a workout in Columbia with the Cleveland Browns (owners of the sixth pick) next Thursday.
It was a sometimes tumultuous career at Missouri, a start-and-stop-and-start again endeavor that often seemed would take him to both coasts instead of Columbia. An early commitment to Missouri gave way to long, serious flirtations with Miami before signing with the Tigers out of high school. From there, a junior college stop in California was next, followed by a commitment to Southern Cal before a flip back to Missouri before signing again with the Tigers in December 2010.
So standing inside of Devine Pavilion on Thursday, with a gaggle of NFL scouts eye-balling his every move, it was a reflective time for Richardson.
"I had a lot of teams asking questions, a lot of schools offering me," Richardson recalled. "It's been a crazy process. I'm happy where I chose to go to school at. I'm happy with the colors I leave behind, and they're always going to walk with me.
"Black and gold is what I bleed right now. It's what I bleed, period. I'm happy I actually had the chance to do it properly and have the recognition I do have."
The recruiting process set Richardson up for this new round of courtship, two processes that have everything in common except for money, according to the loquacious defensive tackle. There's plenty of money at stake for the former five-star recruit, who has been told by his agent that there's no doubt he's going in the first round. Richardson was overheard talking to friends about a team picking in the 20s, and those around him seemed to scoff that he would last that long.
That swagger that rubbed many the wrong way won't go anywhere, even with a move from the amateur to the professional ranks in full swing. Richardson said he's trying to stay humble off the field, but he'll always carry that cocksure attitude on the field.
Part of that comes from the suspension that soured his final moments at Missouri. However, he said he "did the crime so (he) did the time" and there's not a doubt in his mind that he leaves Columbia on good terms with the coaching staff.
That's evident with his move back to mid-Missouri to finish his training with the Tigers' strength-and-conditioning coach, Pat Ivey.
His final public workout as a Missouri Tiger is over. More fame is ahead of him. For Richardson, the past served its purpose, and now it's time to move on.
"None at all, man. No regrets," Richardson said. "No time for regrets. Only forward."