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Riddick shows versatility in four years

Chris Allen | Thursday, November 15, 2012

Theo Riddick has taken a lot of steps in his career His steps past, through and over defenders have earned him 966 rushing yards, 1,166 receiving yards and 1,050 return yards in his four-year career in an Irish uniform. But with his first step on campus as a Notre Dame student, Riddick achieved something far more important.

“I’m the first person from my family to go to college,” the senior Riddick said. “I wanted to really do something big with my college choice. I wanted to leave home for once, you know. I wanted to do something different that my family never had the opportunity to do. I went big and chose to come to Notre Dame.”

Mr. Versatility
In his four years in an Irish uniform, the versatile Riddick from Manville, N.J., has performed in almost every skill position role on offense and special teams. In addition to his primary duties as a tough, all-around running back, Riddick has returned kicks and punts, played two years as a slot receiver and has even thrown a few lead blocks for his fellow backs. Riddick said the flexibility in positions has always come naturally.

“I would say I definitely saw that I had the abilities to do a lot in terms of catching the ball and running the ball,” Riddick said. “Coming here to Notre Dame, the coaches just enhanced my abilities in those areas. … I can catch the ball, I can run it, I can come in and be a power back. I’m very versatile.”

In 2009, with former Irish head coach Charlie Weis at the helm, Riddick had the opportunity to contribute immediately as a freshman kick returner. Riddick’s open-field elusiveness and quickness down the field – traits that made him one of the top recruits in New Jersey in the 2009 recruiting class – made a big impact on the Irish special teams. His 849 return yards were the most in a single season by an Irish player in program history, breaking a record then held by one of Riddick’s mentors: former Irish running back Armando Allen. Riddick said he learned on special teams and waited his turn on offense.

“Returning kicks just helped me, in some ways, just to realize the speed of the game,” he said. “Beyond that, I don’t think it helped too much as a running back or wide receiver.”

Before Riddick could make that move onto the first-team offense, the Irish program had to undergo a seismic change. Riddick said the firing of Weis and the hiring of current coach Brian Kelly was a challenge as a young player.

“It was a tough time,” Riddick said. “Being a freshman and coming into an environment like that was shocking, and it was tough. But we’ve bounced back and overcome a lot, and look at where we are today.”

One of the first positional changes Kelly made on the offensive side of the ball was to move Riddick to slot receiver to take advantage of his open-field ability in space in the spread offense. Riddick said the move required a mental adjustment.

“It was a huge transition,” he said. “I had never played wide receiver before. Luckily we had a great receiver in [former Irish receiver Michael] Floyd here. He taught me more than a few things.”

After playing the whole 2010 season and much of 2011 at the slot position, Riddick returned to his original position of running back after a late injury to former Irish running back Jonas Gray. Since that injury, Riddick has become the most consistent and dependable Irish running back. Through 10 games of the 2012 season, Riddick leads Notre Dame in rushing with 714 yards on the ground. The senior said his time as a wideout improved some facets of his game as a running back.

“That time as a wide receiver definitely helped me now that I’m a running back again,” Riddick said. “I can read coverages and I can predict where people are going to be in the pre-snap. Definitely, that all enhanced my game.”

Though he has traveled from the bottom of the running back depth chart to the slot receiver position and back to be the lead Irish running back, Riddick said he does not care about his individual standing in the backfield.

“It really means nothing whether or not I’m the top guy,” he said. “I just want to win and be a part of wins. I’ll do anything to help this team do that. I’m just happy to be a part of success.”

The joker

Though he has earned a reputation as a tough and intimidating between-the-tackles runner on the field, off the field Riddick finds his passion in humor and having fun – a trait that might be traced back to his notorious freshman-year dorm.

“I lived in Zahm when I stayed on campus,” Riddick said. “What can I say? They’re always rowdy, from Wednesday till Sunday. The guys in Zahm never sleep.”
Riddick has carried that humorous spirit into his long friendship with fellow senior running back Cierre Wood. Though the two seniors compete for carries in the backfield, their friendship has never wavered.

“I don’t think my relationship with Cierre has ever really changed at all,” Riddick said. “It’s always been a real tight bond on and off the field. From day one, we just clicked. I’m just really happy to be here with him.”

Riddick and Wood have worked hard to earn a reputation as practical jokesters among teammates in the Irish locker room. This penchant for jokes reached a boiling point this season, when Riddick and Wood shared a house with senior defensive end Tyler Stockton – also a notorious comedian.

“If I could record our house, man, I think everyone in South Bend would watch,” Riddick said. “We like to make jokes, do some pranks, it gets a little bit wild. It happens at all hours of the night. It doesn’t matter if its 2 a.m., you better lock your door in our house or someone will mess with you.”

While Wood and Stockton make up Riddick’s Notre Dame family, it is his commitment to make his true family proud, as the first member of his family to pursue a college degree. Riddick said he will share his career at Notre Dame on Senior Day with a very special family member.

“I get to see my twin sister. … Her name is Thea,” he said. “She doesn’t go to school, she’s back at home but I keep in touch with her on a daily basis. We’re twins, so I mean, we did everything together. She didn’t play football, but she was a cheerleader. If I did some things wrong, you know, she let me know about it. She was like another coach out there.”

While Riddick will walk off the field at Notre Dame Stadium against Wake Forest as one of the more versatile offensive players to don the Irish uniform, it is his trademark toughness that he hopes leaves an impact on future players.

“I just want to be remembered as someone that never quit, regardless of the circumstances.”

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