SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Cody Riggs' addition to Notre Dame looked important two weeks ago, when the university's investigation into possible academic dishonesty by KeiVarae Russell and three of his teammates wasn't public knowledge.
But now, with Russell's future to be determined, Riggs is not only Notre Dame's most important newcomer, he's one of the program's most important players heading into the season.
The redshirt senior has four years of experience in the SEC, playing safety, corner and nickel for Florida from 2010-2013. He's looked impressive during Notre Dame's preseason camp and was already in line for a starting job at corner before Russell was removed from the team.
While coach Brian Kelly said he generally doesn't like to add graduate transfers — who are only eligible for one year — Riggs was the perfect fit. His position coach agreed.
"He was one of the best free agent pickups that I've been associated with," secondary coach Kerry Cooks said. "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. And then he comes from a system that's kind of NFL-bound, a lot like the one that we're building right now.
"… He's fit in very nicely. And he brings that leadership. He's not an overly vocal guy, but when he comes to work, he comes to work. He doesn't say anything, he doesn't complain, so that's always good to have that, especially when you have some young corners that are still trying to learn the game."
Riggs has provided a good example for sophomores Cole Luke and Devin Butler, who will take on more playing time so long as Russell is out of the picture. He'll be the guy to cover opposing team's top receivers — like USC's Nelson Agholor — and Notre Dame would like to get him some snaps at nickel, though that may be difficult given Russell's absence.
Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder lauded Riggs' versatility and said he's growing into a leadership role with the cornerbacks and secondary. Add in his reliability as a cornerback and the timing for his one year at Notre Dame couldn't be better.
"His value to us has been invaluable, so to speak," VanGorder said. "It’s been great to have him.”