ST. LOUIS -- Sheldon Richardson doesn't mince words.
"Man, it was tough," Richardson said, exhaling deeply before speaking again. "It's still tough."
Richardson still remembers the day when his hope disappeared, when he went from the No. 4-recruit in the 2009 class to another academic casualty. He's admitted his lack of focus postponed his dream of playing Div. I football, and he's not looking for sympathy.
It's still tough, though.
Four months after choosing Missouri on National Signing Day 2009, it became apparent that Richardson wouldn't qualify out of high school. Instead, the five-star recruit traveled 2,000 miles to "the middle of nowhere, California" to play junior college football at College of the Sequoias, in Visalia. More importantly, Richardson retreated to the valley for perspective and focus.
He said he's gotten both in heaping spoonfuls.
"I was homesick," Richardson said. "I'm a city boy, and I went there and had ... four dudes, my roommates and two other guys. We stuck it out through summer camp, summer training, and the season rode in and the transition got a little bit easier.
"It was different. I had to get used to it. I still get homesick a lot."
The little reminders of home, Richardson said, made things easier.
"As long as I had my television with Mizzou on it, I was cool."
When the talk shifts back to the football field, that old swagger returns for Richardson. He had an impressive freshman year for a team that usually doesn't play freshmen. He finished with a team-leading 65 total tackles, 17 for loss, and three sacks in ten games.
Still, Richardson said he could have done more in a 5-5 season.
"It was dominant," Richardson said, "but it wasn't how I wanted it to be. I could have done a lot more. We finished 5-5, so you always feel like you could do more when you ain't winning."
Off the football field, Richardson said he isn't making the same mistakes he made in high school.
"Strong, strong," Richardson said about his grades. "I'm on-point to graduate in December, so I can't say that I'm messing up too much."
Back in St. Louis before the summer session begins in California, Richardson said it will still be a struggle when he heads west again. The 6-foot-4, 290-pound defensive tackle said his plans haven't changed -- he'll redshirt this season to preserve three years of eligibility when he leaves Visalia.
Already, he's started the countdown.
"I got five, six more months," Richardson said. "Just gotta knock those outta the way. Then I'm gonna be straight, I'm gonna be back where I want to be."
He's talking about Missouri. Since his plans took the California detour, Richardson has said in every interview that he'll sign with the Tigers again this December, arriving in Columbia during January 2011.
The rumors, however, don't stop. With 30 offers ("Everything I had coming out of high school, just add the Pac 10 to it," Richardson said), there will be hearsay until Richardson officially signs on the dotted line. A trip to Cal this past school year turned into a rumor that, not only was Richardson's recruitment open again, but he was leaning toward the Golden Bears.
"It is what it is," Richardson said. "It's a good school. What is it, the No.1 academic school in the country, for a public school? I was just saying it was a good school, that's all. Ain't no de-committing coming.
"There ain't nothing like that."
It wasn't the first rumor, and it won't be the last. But, Richardson points to his feelings in California -- the homesickness -- as proof that he'll end up in Missouri. Even more incentive to return is the fact that one of his closest friends, former high school teammate Anthony Pierson, is on the Tigers' commitment list for 2011.
"The Truth," Richardson said, referring to Pierson's nickname. "I'm trying to push him to get out of high school in December, so me and him and get there together."
Whether or not Pierson graduates early, Richardson said his plans won't change:
Next time he heads east, it'll be for good.