SOUTH BEND, Ind. — For the last four years, Cody Riggs honed his skills in the SEC. The defensive back played 40 games for Florida, many of which came against teams from college football's best conference.
But following a 4-8 year in Gainesville and an opportunity he felt was too good to pass up, Riggs will play his final year of college ball at Notre Dame. And with an academic investigation likely jettisoning star cornerback KeiVarae Russell from the team, Riggs' transfer looks even more important for the Irish.
Riggs said Brian VanGorder's defense at Notre Dame is similar to the one he played at Florida, where he saw time as a corner back, nickel back and safety. He has experience jamming big, physical receivers at the line of scrimmage while playing man coverage — things Notre Dame cornerbacks didn't do a lot of in Bob Diaco's bend-but-don't-break defense.
Russell was expected to thrive in VanGorder's defense, but pending the outcome of Notre Dame's investigation into academic dishonesty, he won't get that chance. His absence would mean a pair of sophomores in Cole Luke and Devin Butler would be elevated to the first-team defense.
Not only does Riggs have the talent to succeed in VanGorder's defense, he has extensive experience playing at the college level. Both of those traits are imperative for an Irish squad scrambling to replace Russell as well as wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore.
"He’s a very physical corner, a smart corner," wide receiver Chris Brown said earlier this month. "Being a veteran and having so much experience, there’s some things you can’t do against him that you can do against younger corners. Just very smart, very savvy, very technical. I like his style."
Coach Brian Kelly echoed that "physical corner" description when asked about Riggs. Over the summer, Kelly said it was "unusual" to add a one-year graduate transfer but added that Riggs was a "great" fit for the program.
Riggs has long been familiar with Notre Dame, dating back to being recruited to the program out of high school in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. by Irish running backs coach Tony Alford. He visited Notre Dame with former Irish wide receiver T.J. Jones and nose guard Louis Nix — both southern guys, too — but decided against joining them up north.
"Notre Dame was No. 1 on my list for a long time," Riggs said. "I was pretty much coming here."
Five years later, Riggs is here. For Notre Dame, the timing couldn't be any better. He's looked impressive in practice and was destined for a starting role at cornerback before Russell's involvement in the academic mess.
And outside of the colder temperatures, Riggs said he doesn't expect things to be too different at Notre Dame than they were in the SEC from a week-to-week perspective.
"You can't take any plays off," Riggs said. "Every play is important. It's a very competitive league. And Notre Dame has a very competitive schedule every year, they're always playing someone in the top 45 or very close to it. It's very similar schedule-wise, so there's nothing that these guys haven't seen that I saw."