WOODLAWN — When Mount Carmel head coach Frank Lenti visited Minnesota defensive lineman Steven Richardson at the Golden Gophers' football training camp in August, he wasn't acting like the dominant player who had led the Caravan to two state championships.
"He said he was a little nervous because he was going to be playing in the Big Ten," Lenti said. "And I told him, 'You need to understand the reason you're here is because you belong here.' I told him that it's not like Minnesota was giving out scholarships for free."
Richardson took Lenti's words to heart and said he immediately changed his mindset, which has been beneficial considering the 5-foot-11-inch, 290-pound lineman has started four of Minnesota's five games as a true freshman.
"After that, I just started trusting in my ability, and everything started working out," said Richardson, who has nine tackles.
The starts include Saturday's stunning 30-14 victory at Michigan in the Little Brown Jug rivalry. It was only the second win in 24 years for the Gophers (4-1) over the Wolverines. Afterward, Richardson was one of several Minnesota players to lift the Jug, a tradition that dates to 1909 and is the focal point of college football's oldest trophy game.
"It was way heavier than I thought it would be, but it was a cool experience," Richardson said of the 20-plus-pound Jug. "I never thought I'd be holding it, not that I didn't have confidence in the team, but overall I just didn't think I'd hold that jug."
Richardson's career has been on a fast track, especially since the Roseland native, who attended elementary school at Newberry Math and Science Academy in Lincoln Park, didn't play football until his freshman year at Mount Carmel.
He started on two straight state champs, including the 2013 squad that notched six shutouts and allowed more than 10 points only four times all season. As a senior, he anchored the defense with 64 tackles.
"His high-octane motor is driven by his attitude that I'm going to do what I want to do and you can't stop me," Mount Carmel assistant coach David Lenti said.
Richardson said the Minnesota coaching staff hinted throughout training camp that he would be inserted into the starting lineup this season. Richardson said he's adjusting to the speed, size and athleticism of the college game one play at a time. He described the Division I experience as "definitely more explosive" than high school ball.
"You just have to be able to adapt to it," Richardson said.
The crowds obviously also have been much larger. That's especially true for Saturday's game in Ann Arbor, where 102,926 fans packed Michigan Stadium.
Richardson was represented by about a dozen family members, including some who came from as far away as Wyoming.
Richardson said the triumph over Michigan "was definitely a statement" and potentially set up the Golden Gophers for a Big Ten divisional title.
"We have a whole different mindset here. We want the Big Ten championship," Richardson said. "That's our main goal."
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