Flashback to Nov. 26, 2011.
Tennessee capped a lackluster season with a 10-7 loss at Kentucky to assure itself that it would be home for the winter with no bowl game after compiling a 5-7 record.
Reading some of the writing that was on the wall, several coaches jumped ship out of Knoxville, including defensive line coach Lance Thompson, who left to rejoin the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Among the premier cornerback targets for Thompson and the Volunteers at the time was Shaq Wiggins of Sandy Creek (Ga.) High School.
Michigan, Tennessee and Virginia were the three programs after Wiggins the hardest, per Wiggins in an exclusive interview with InsideTennessee in December 2011. Once Thompson left on Jan. 15, 2012, the Big Orange fell out of the picture for Wiggins, who ultimately signed with Georgia in February 2013.
Later that fall, Wiggins played in 12 games as a true freshman and paced Georgia with two interceptions. He even compiled a then-career high six tackles against Tennessee.
Coaching changes always have a ripple effect. It affected Tennessee when Thompson bounced. It affected Georgia in similar fashion. Todd Grantham played a key role in Wiggins selecting the Bulldogs and it was much of the same reasoning when Wiggins bolted from Athens to join Grantham with the Louisville Cardinals after just one season as a cornerback for Georgia.
After sitting out the 2014 season due to transfer rules, Wiggins earned honorable mention All-ACC honors with Louisville after 13 starts at cornerback that included 30 tackles, 11 pass breakups and two interceptions.
In 2016, Wiggins battled a foot injury and struggled to stay on the field in a frustrating campaign. Wiggins played in eight contests, totaling eight tackles (six solo) with three pass breakups and one interception.
Wiggins did the work in the classroom and obtained his degree at Louisville, making himself eligible as a graduate transfer. Grantham left the Bluegrass State to be Mississippi State’s new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Many assumed Wiggins would move to Starkville. That didn’t happen. Instead he gave Tennessee a second chance at his talents and visited twice this spring, including arriving on Rocky Top on Saturday with family to view the DISH Orange & White game.
The Volunteers graduated starting cornerbacks Malik Foreman and Cameron Sutton. Rising senior Emmanuel Moseley has a lame shoulder and may or may not be able to play in 2017. Thus the opportunity for immediate playing time exists in Knoxville.
“I have made my decision and I will continue my career at the University of Tennessee!” Wiggins said on social media on Wednesday afternoon.
“I would like to thank all coaches and universities who reached out to give me another opportunity. But with hard prayer and support from my family, I think I’ve made the right decision for me.”
If the foot is healthy and Wiggins shows up read to contribute, he will start at cornerback for Tennessee and for new defensive backs coach Charlton Warren. Another rising senior, Justin Martin, got ample praise from Tennessee coaches all spring. Rising sophomore Marquill Osborne showed flashes. Members of the 2017 signing class start to arrive in late May with Shawn Shamburger likely being the top candidate to play immediately. (Terrell Bailey and Cheyenne Labruzza will have something to say about that, too.)
Long story longer, the Vols got a commitment Wednesday from a player who has the skills to see his name listed in the starting lineup against Georgia Tech on the HD screens inside the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 4.
Realizing that Tennessee kicks off less than 25 miles from his hometown of Tyrone, Georgia, Wiggins has all the motivation he needs to make that happen.