NFL future not holding back Notre Dame CB Cody Riggs

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Cody Riggs knows testing his still-inflamed, still-vulnerable left foot Tuesday against 22nd-ranked LSU could cloud his promising football future.

The grad student cornerback’s heart trumped any thoughts of passing on his final game in a Notre Dame uniform and starting the rest and healing necessary to be at his best when NFL scouts, coaches and personnel types start putting his game under a microscope in less than two months at the NFL Combine.

“I knew this game was important, and I was going to try and play in this game no matter what,” Riggs said Saturday after practice.

The stress reaction in his foot caused him to miss two games entirely, perhaps not coincidentally the team’s two worst defensive performances of the season (55-31 at Arizona State and 49-14 at USC), and parts of two others.

“I sit some periods in practice, but I don’t sit out a whole practice,” he said of his December routine. “I figured I’d pick my spots. I felt like I worked in spots I couldn’t afford to miss, but so far it’s been really good.”

Tuesday’s Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl at LP Field will be the fifth time Riggs has game-planned for LSU, but the fourth time he actually played against the Tigers.

The former Florida Gator started against LSU in 2011 and 2013, played as a reserve in 2010, but missed the 2012 meeting — a 14-6 Florida triumph in Gainesville, Fla. — when he was sitting out that season as a medical redshirt.

What felt like the end of the world at the time actually turned into an opportunity two years later for Riggs to finish his career at Notre Dame as a grad school-style transfer without having to sit out a year.

“I have no regrets about my decision to come to Notre Dame,” said the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., product, who recorded 33 tackles in 2014 with an interception and a forced fumble. “Everything has been so positive.”

He’ll get his master of science in management next spring — a big reason why he transferred — while squeezing in pro workouts around classes four days a week when most of his NFL Draft-aspiring peers will be 100 percent honed in on training.

Not that an NFL opportunity isn’t important to him.

“I showed people I can play multiple positions and in multiple defenses,” the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Riggs said. “I think that’s what I got out of (Notre Dame on) the football side.”

Draft analyst Scott Wright of wholeheartedly concurs and now considers Riggs Notre Dame’s top pro prospect among those players with expiring eligibility, over ebbing tight end Ben Koyack, among others.

“He doesn’t profile as a No. 1 shutdown corner or anything like that,” Wright said, “but I think where his value lies is his versatility. He can play corner. He can play safety. He can help you on return teams. I think Cody Riggs has a chance to sneak into that third round, the latter part of day two.

“And I think Koyack’s probably in that same place. He hasn’t had the breakout senior campaign that we thought. He had a big opportunity with (Troy) Niklas going pro, and he hasn’t necessarily taken advantage of it.

“And the thing I keep hearing about (Koyack) from league people, they question his desire. Does he love football? Is he going to do everything it takes to be the best football player he can be or does he have other interests and he plays football because he’s good?”

Riggs wears his passion for the world to see, and if there’s a hole in the Notre Dame experience, it’s never having had the chance to play in a game with KeiVarae Russell.

The junior standout, and ND’s best performer on either side of the ball last spring, missed the 2014 season after being pulled from practices and team meetings in mid-August during ND’s in-house academic fraud investigation.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly expects Russell to return to school and the team in June, something Russell has confirmed through social media.

“I talk to KeiVarae all the time,” Riggs said. “When I first contacted Notre Dame and committed and everything, he was the first person I reached out to and he was very open to talking. He was great in the summer. He and I would always stay after and work.

“It was unfortunate it happened. I was really looking forward to playing with him. I can’t wait to watch him and Cole (Luke) work together. He’s so aggressive and smart as well. He puts a lot of time into what he does. I can’t wait to watch him next year.”

Decision time?

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, poked his head into a room full of media, waiting to talk to several Irish players, and teased them with a QB non-announcement.

Kelly has said Friday he’d likely decide Saturday whether senior Everett Golson would make career start No. 24 on Tuesday or whether sophomore Malik Zaire would get start No. 1 against the nation’s top pass-efficiency defense.

But he probably won’t announce it until Monday, his next scheduled media appearance.

About the most newsy thing to come out of Kelly’s mouth Saturday during the brief, light-hearted exchange was his revelation that he did every bit of his Christmas shopping on Dec. 24.

Meanwhile, LSU counterpart Les Miles, in an actual scheduled and formal setting, revealed little more than that in a five-minute press conference, with squealing Tiger fans often drowning out his answers.

The press conference was held in a very public area of the vast Gaylord Opryland Hotel, which probably could give Rhode Island a run for its money in terms of total acreage. Both teams are staying there in the days leading up to the game, and it’s entirely possible they would never bump into each other during their stay.

It was suspected that LSU might stage its own quarterback derby in December, given LSU’s national standing in pass offense (114th out of 125) and passing-efficiency (68th), down from 44th and sixth, respectively, from a year ago, and dips in total offense (33rd to 80th) and scoring offense (23rd to 71st) from 2013.

But sophomore Anthony Jennings said Saturday he, and not freshman prodigy Brandon Harris, has been taking all the first-team reps in practice this month.

Decision time II?

Irish junior defensive tackle Sheldon Day said Saturday he’ll decide after the bowl game whether he’ll return to Notre Dame for his senior season or leave for the 2015 NFL Draft.

Day was one of four Irish players with remaining eligibility who asked Kelly to get feedback from the NFL Draft Advisory Board about a projection of what round they might be selected in if they did jump into the draft pool.

Day declined to say what kind of feedback he received, but Scott Wright of projects him as a second- or third-rounder. Wright says Day’s versatility helps his cause, but durability issues work against him.

Offensive guard Nick Martin is the only one of the four to declare he is definitely coming back to ND for the 2015 season. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley and quarterback Everett Golson were the other two player who requested feedback from the advisory board.

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2015 draft is Jan. 15.


• Notre Dame has nearly sold out of its 8,000-seat allotment for the Music City Bowl, while LSU recently exhausted its 8,000-seat allotment. General tickets remain for the game. And if the game does not sell out, it would be the first of the 11 meetings between the two teams that was not a sell-out.

• Notre Dame practiced outside for an hour and a half Saturday at Father Ryan High School in Nashville, and most of that taking place in the rain.

The Irish will move inside Sunday and Monday, thanks to the NFL’s Tennessee Titans letting them use their indoor facility.

• ND assistant coach Bob Elliott needed 20 stitches to close a wound above his right heel Saturday after inadvertently taking a cleat to his foot at practice.


Notre Dame cornerback Cody Riggs, left, moves in to bring down Florida State's Rashad Greene during the Notre Dame-Florida State game on Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, FL. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)