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December 31, 2008MORE: Sheldon Richardson interview | U.S. Army AA Bowl coverage | More all-star coverage
SAN ANTONIO ? Miami kids have The U. Los Angeles kids have USC or UCLA. Dallas and Houston kids have their pick of Texas, Texas A&M or Texas Tech.
St. Louis kids have ? basketball.
The Gateway City is a basketball stronghold with scant amateur football tradition to call its own. While the state of Missouri will never be one of the high school football hotbeds, St. Louis still trails Kansas City for producing top in-state talent.
So when a top prospect comes along, it's tough for the city to let go.
Sheldon Richardson, a five-star defensive tackle from Gateway High, can't escape how starved St. Louis is for a football star, especially one who stays in state.
Fans at basketball tournaments instantly become Richardson fans − even if he's playing for the opposing team.
As he marches up the court, Richardson can hear chants of M-I-Z-Z-O-U from the crowd.
"They'd see me smiling on the court every now and then," Richardson said. "It was pretty cool."
The fans got their wish when Richardson committed to Missouri on Dec. 19. Richardson is the first five-star prospect with a St. Louis address since at least 2002. Ranked fourth in the Rivals100, Richardson is a rare national five-star prospect for the city.
If he signs a letter of intent with Missouri, Richardson will be the second five-star prospect signed by coach Gary Pinkel in Columbia. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who signed in the 2008 class, is from Parkway West in the St. Louis suburb of Ballwin.
"St. Louis hasn't really been on the map for football until last year with Gabbert and a few other players," said Ronnie Wingo Jr., a four-star prospect out of St. Louis University High. "Now it's starting to grow more."
But neither of those two went to college with the same sort of fanfare Richardson is enjoying.
Thanks to his freakish athleticism and versatility, Richardson is one of the nation's elite prospects.
He projects as a defensive tackle in college, but he didn't stop there in high school. He played tight end at Gateway and talked to colleges about the possibility of contributing on offense at the next level, but not all were receptive. He spoke to Missouri about contributing in goal-line packages.
He can run an electronically timed 4.72-second 40-yard dash, which is an absurd time for a defensive tackle. Most teams allow their most fleet-footed, shifty player to return punts and kicks. For Gateway that was Richardson ? even at 6 feet 4 and 292 pounds.
Richardson can't explain why he's so quick at his size.
When he was younger, he was always on the move. His size screamed football, but he played basketball, baseball and lacrosse. Only soccer required too much running.
"When I was younger, I was always a heavy-set kid," Richardson said. "But I always did stuff. Even though I ate a lot, I ran a lot."
Football fans in St. Louis hoped he wouldn't run across the state line.
"I was close to leaving, but I had a long talk with my father," Richardson said. "It was a lot of pressure to stay in state and all the ups and downs and what ifs."