SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — The role for Notre Dame cornerback Cody Riggs abruptly changed this month.
When Riggs announced in February he was transferring from Florida to Notre Dame to get a master’s degree in management, he was expected to provide veteran leadership and versatility to a young Fighting Irish defense. He’d help solidify a secondary that was counting on KeiVarae Russell to be its lockdown corner.
With Russell and four other Notre Dame players out indefinitely while the university investigates whether they turned in papers and homework they didn’t complete themselves, the Irish will count on Riggs to cover opponents’ top receivers.
“He clearly is our top guy,” coach Brian Kelly said. “We’d like to keep him on the X receiver if we can because he’d be our top corner. He’s been more than advertised for us. He’s been a leader. He’s been accountable. He’s been a guy that can play multiple positions.”
Riggs said it hasn’t been a hard transition.
“Obviously, it hurts not having KeiVarae out there,” he said. “But it’s pretty much the same. I’ve been pulling guys to the side. I just maybe do it one or two times more a practice.”
The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Riggs, son of former Atlanta Falcons standout running back Gerald Riggs Sr., was fourth at Florida last season with 51 tackles playing safety after playing cornerback his first two years for the Gators. He has played nickel back as well. He said he’s ready to play wherever the Irish coaches put him.
“I just love playing in the secondary, making plays,” he said.
Riggs admits it will feel different Saturday as he puts on the Notre Dame uniform instead of the blue and orange of Florida when the 17th-ranked Fighting Irish face Rice in the season opener.
But he won’t feel completely out of place at Notre Dame Stadium. He remembers going to games when he was 5 years old in 1997 when his uncle, Bobby Brown, was an Irish receiver. He’d stay in the dorm of his uncle’s girlfriend, who is now his aunt.
“So I’ve always been a fan of Notre Dame. My uncle is obviously a huge fan,” he said. “The tradition of Notre Dame is strong in my family.”
Riggs said he chose Florida over the Irish out of high school because he thought he’d have an opportunity to play earlier, it was closer to his hometown of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the Gators were coached by Urban Meyer, who was his uncle’s position coach when he played at Notre Dame.
The new, aggressive style of first-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is similar to the style the Gators ran, so Riggs said it hasn’t been hard to adjust while his Irish teammates have been undergoing a big change in philosophy and scheme.
Having played in 40 college games, including 26 career starts, Riggs is by far the most experienced Irish player on defense.
He’s tried to be a mentor to the younger players such as Cole Luke, who will start in place of Russell, and Devin Butler.
“When I got here, I took a lot of guys under my wing and stayed after and did a lot of extra work with them just to let them know that I’m here,” he said. “We worked on some drills I brought over from Florida, just stuff like that to help you work on your craft.”
VanGorder expects Riggs’ influence to grow.
“Any time you come in new, even though you’ve got the experience, you try to blend in. You try to find your way with the leadership role and stuff,” he said. “I think once we enter competition here, Cody’s words of wisdom and leadership will grow through the year.”