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Football

Cody Riggs: A Natural Fit

| Thursday, September 25, 2014

CoverWebJodi Lo and Keri O'Mara | The Observer

A fiery red-headed boy, dressed in Notre Dame gear ran up to Cody Riggs outside the Main Building on Wednesday afternoon and yelled, “High five!” With his hand extended above his head, he leapt to meet the hand of the chuckling graduate student cornerback. 

“It’s a lot of fun,” Riggs said. “So many young fans here at the games, especially when you go through the [player] walk. [There are] a lot of little kids and a lot of really loyal fans here. They have been a part of this community for a long time, and it’s a great fan tradition.” 

The graduate student himself was once that little kid, coming to Notre Dame to watch his uncle, former Irish receiver Bobby Brown, play in Notre Dame Stadium against Michigan State in 1997. Since then, Riggs has had no issue fitting into the Irish defense or the Notre Dame community, despite his four years at a different university. 

“It means a lot to me to be a part of [this community],”Riggs said. “I have kind of been a part of it since my uncle came here. I used to come to games. I almost came here but now I am finally officially a part of the community, and it feels great. 

Riggs’s story is not one of finally fulfilling a family dream, following in his uncle’s footsteps, he  said, but rather a story of him learning and doing what was best for his future, while continuing to play football at a high level. Riggs originally visited Notre Dame in 2010 on his first recruiting trip, with his uncle at his side. Many speculated he would end up at Notre Dame, but eventually the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. native decided to stay in state and attend Florida to play football under then-head coach Urban Meyer and then-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong. 

“[My uncle] never really pressured me into coming here,” Riggs said. “He just explained the good things that come with going to Notre Dame. He always let it be my decision. He was really happy the second time around. First time around, I’m sure he was upset.

“But like I’ve said before … Florida was the perfect fit for me. Urban Meyer knew my family from before; it was close to home, and I had a really good relationship with Charlie Strong. Those were the reasons I went there.” 

Brown said that he never pushed Riggs towards attending Notre Dame and that he felt Florida was best for his nephew at that time. He said that Riggs picked up on things around him and always came to his own informed decisions. 

“Throughout the process I wanted to be sure to let him know [what] the positives were about Notre Dame,” Brown said. “But overall, I wanted to make sure I didn’t pressure him. I wanted him to make his own decision.”

“I think his decision [to attend Notre Dame] was for all of the right reasons,” Brown said. “It shows how mature he is. He understood the opportunity to get a Master’s [degree] was something that he shouldn’t take lightly.”

At Florida, Riggs earned his degree in family, youth and community sciences. Riggs had one more year of eligibility after he missed most of the 2012 season with a foot injury, and he said he wanted to continue his education with a Master’s program for his remaining year. Riggs said Notre Dame was the best fit for his final season. 

“It was an opportunity for me — before I even knew I was coming to Notre Dame — to do my fifth year elsewhere. I had been in [the Florida] program for four years. I thought about leaving and going into the [NFL] draft last year, but I said, ‘I’m gonna go somewhere else and do my fifth year and get a Master’s somewhere else, and finish my college career.’” 

Riggs is studying business management at Notre Dame, with the aspirations of possibly starting or working for a non-profit organization, he said. 

 “I wanted to either own a non-profit one day, hopefully, if I’m playing that long,” Riggs said. “Or I wouldn’t mind working for one, whether it be in a position of operations or programming.”

Riggs said it was not easy for him to leave Florida, but he made the decision with his life after football in mind. 

“I wouldn’t say I had regrets leaving Florida, but I have always felt bad about it,” Riggs said. “Just the fact that I had to leave a situation where I was a starter and the coaching staff was depending on me to be a leader. Of course I feel bad about that, but I explained to them that this decision was best for me. Some people may look at it as a selfish decision, but it was something that was the best for my future. 

“[My Master’s degree] is very important. It allows me to have something to do after football. I always like staying busy, and it means a lot to have something to fall back on after I’m done playing football.” 

Although Riggs will only be at Notre Dame for a single year, Irish secondary coach Kerry Cooks said he was eager to have an experienced defensive back among the young Irish secondary. 

“[Riggs] was one of the best free-agent pickups that I’ve been associated with,” Cooks said at Notre Dame’s Media Day on Aug. 19. “You got a guy who has experience playing in the SEC, he’s got experience playing corner, he’s got experience playing safety, he’s got experience playing in big games, so he’s got a great feel and understanding for the game.” 

When it was announced Riggs would be attending Notre Dame in February, Irish head coach Brian Kelly praised Riggs’s football knowledge and work ethic. 

“Cody Riggs is an outstanding player,” said Kelly in a Feb. 19 press release. “He played a ton of football at Florida, having started at both safety and cornerback. Cody definitely brings veteran leadership and versatility to our team and defense.

“He will help us immediately but, more importantly, Cody is a great kid with a tremendous focus on both football and academics.”

Kelly proved to be correct in saying the Irish would need Riggs’s knowledge and leadership immediately, as junior cornerback KeiVarae Russell was withheld as part of an investigation into suspected academic dishonesty and graduate student safety and captain Austin Collinsworth was injured for the team’s first three games. Riggs has been a steady and solid presence in the Irish secondary with these absences. He has seven tackles and one interception through the team’s first three games. Riggs said the transition into the Irish defense was a relatively smooth one because it played a similar style to Florida. 

“The defense is very similar to where I came from,” Riggs said. “Corners are very aggressive in this defense, which is something I was used to at Florida and which is why I fit so well into this scheme.” 

However, Riggs said he does not get by on talent and tenacity; he watches as much film as he can in order to prepare. 

“I put in a lot of work,” Riggs said. “Even though I’m studying all of the time [for my Master’s], I still find time to study for football, and I always have questions for the coaches. I try to be a step ahead of everything.

“I watch a lot of film throughout the week. I try and see what they do in certain situations especially on third downs, because teams have go-to plays. I try to study those and anticipate those. I try to take guessing out of it.”

Brown said he and Riggs often have conversations about the “nemesis” relationship between receivers and corners, which Riggs said helps his play. Brown added that his nephew has a great intelligence and unyielding approach when it comes to football. 

“I remember at 11-years-old, he was well beyond his years in terms of his football IQ,” Brown said. “He continues [to be] a very smart football player. … He can go into any situation one-on-one presnap, knowing what the receiver is thinking and then in the midst [of the] route knowing what a receiver is trying to do against him. It’s a game of chess out there.” 

That mental ability has helped key Riggs’s play on the perimeter through the first quarter of the season, helping him integrate seamlessly into the Irish secondary. Looking at his transition from the big-picture perspective, Riggs said it might have been inevitable that he ended up in South Bend.    

“Looking at it now, I fit in pretty well here,” Riggs said. “Especially with the coaching staff, the players and the environment here. Maybe I was meant to be here. Maybe it was going to happen eventually.”

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