Size. It’s an attribute that many say can hamper a football player, but redshirt junior Cody Riggs is not one to accept his vertically challenged plight.
At 5’9” Riggs is small for a starting college safety, there’s no getting around it. But it’s not like Florida hasn’t put guys his size in the middle of their defensive backfield before.
Last season the 5’10” Matt Elam was an instinctive ball-hawking fan-favorite despite his stature, and someone Riggs was able to learn from. Riggs also studies another 5’10” safety that was taught by head coach Will Muschamp, although many Gator fans may not be familiar with the name.
Earl Thomas was a standout safety at the University of Texas while Muschamp was the defensive coordinator and head coach in-waiting for the Longhorns. He set a freshman record for pass breakups with 17 in 2008, making him a consensus freshman All-American. After returning two of his eight interceptions for touchdowns in 2009, Thomas decided to go to the NFL draft where he was selected 14th overall to the Seattle Seahawks.
“In addition to watching Matt [Elam] and Josh [Evans] I also watch a lot of film on Earl Thomas, who is a similar body type to mine. I watch how he played and what made him a great player and I’m trying to add that to my game,” Riggs said. “[Thomas] is very fast to the ball, he knows what’s going on before the play, he’s a very smart football player, he makes a lot of plays before the ball is even snapped. I’m trying to add that to my game and recognize what the offense is doing before they actually try and do it.”
How does one makeup for legs that may not be able to cover as much ground as a lanky wide receiver? Put yourself in the spot that receiver is going to go to before he even gets there. It is that mental aptitude and recognition of routes and formations that supersede physical shortcomings – pun intended.
“I’m a smart football player. I make a lot of calls, I have a good relationship with the other safeties and when we work together, we can do a lot of things,” Riggs said.
Riggs is a corner by trade, but says his experience last season playing safety in Florida’s nickel packages helped him in preparation for this upcoming season, even though he missed all but two games last year with a broken foot. He loves playing corner, would go back in a heartbeat but for now, safety is his permanent spot.
He does have a secret though. A physical ace in the hole that makes up for his height. It is a tremendous leaping ability that he prides himself in.
“I’ve always been a long jumper and a hurdler ever since I was old enough to be able to, since there’s an age limit,” Riggs said. “I always go in the weight room and do hurdle drills, I’ll never let that leave me.”
No matter his size, Cody Riggs plans to help Florida’s secondary. In his first year as a full-time starter at safety, he’ll be constantly looking to grow, by leaps and bounds.