Steven Richardson spent eight months between football gigs last winter, waiting and wondering what would be next.
After a short stint on the practice roster of the NFL's Los Angeles Chargers in 2018, the 23-year-old undrafted free agent defensive tackle was considering his post-football employment options or the possibility of returning to the University of Minnesota.
A business and marketing major during his four years with the Gophers, Richardson also had aspirations of becoming a graphic designer.
Then came a call from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, offering him a shot at regular employment at training camp in May. The lure of the game was hard to resist and Richardson, although he had some initial reservations about the CFL, has turned into one of Winnipeg's most intriguing success stories of 2019.
"I'm really enjoying it," said Richardson following Wednesday's closed practice at IG Field. "At first... I'll be honest, I just wasn't feeling it. But a week here learning about the players, being with my old (Minnesota) teammates Chris (Streveler) and (Drew Wolitarsky) really helped."
Richardson's standout play in training camp made second-year man Brandin Bryant expendable and since then, the 5-10 3/8, 298-pounder with massive arms and legs has become an explosive force in Winnipeg's defensive line rotation.
His low centre of gravity and powerfully built frame have people talking.
"I think when you get to know Steven and you see him work, you see his skill set and his talent level, he has a chance to be very disruptive," said assistant coach Glen Young, who tutors Winnipeg's defensive linemen and linebackers. "I guess I'm surprised he's been effective this early.
"Because usually, you need a little bit of experience to figure it out. For him, his skill set coupled with more knowledge could be really dangerous."
Paired with fellow American defensive tackle Drake Nevis, who's only 6-1, the duo presents a unique problem. How do you get low enough to block them?
"He has four legs — that's the way I look at it," said Young, laughing. "He's so low and he's got tree trunks for arms and you really can't tell the difference. He does a great job keeping guys off of him and his leverage is incredible, his quickness is good and his hands are very effective. I mean, that's tough to block. He's just a massive mountain of a man."
That's old news for Richardson, who was tagged by a college teammate with the nickname Stove, a reference to a character in the Bridesmaids movie.
"I don't think I've gone against a guy my height or shorter than me," said Richardson. "I've always had that leverage. I just went against a guy who was 6-10. For those guys, it's hard for them to bend that low."
To doubt him is to risk being bull-rushed into the quarterback. Defensive tackles rarely post impressive stat lines — Richardson has six tackles in three games — but they often set the table for the more glamourous defensive ends.
Richardson's approach is blue-collar.
"He definitely has a chip on his shoulder," said Wolitarsky. "I know coming out of high school he was kinda disappointed he wasn't more heavily recruited in his state. That was definitely a thing but if you really know him, he's not a guy who holds resentments. He's pretty laid back, a pretty chill guy. He's kind of got a Cali vibe to him."
Veteran defensive tackle Jake Thomas got a favourable impression right from the start. Richardson was humble, willing to absorb the nuances of a new game and a quick study.
"You can tell when people sorta pick stuff up right away," said Thomas. "He was willing to listen and learn. A lot of guys aren't always open to new ideas."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.