Riggs on the rise

Six quarters into his third season as a Tennessee tailback, Gerald Riggs finally got his big chance to shine. He made the most of it, rushing for a team-high 63 yards on 15 carries as the Vols rallied past Florida 30-28 Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.

Riggs' opportunity came after starting tailback Cedric Houston aggravated an ankle injury he originally suffered in Game 1.

''I was just ready to go,'' Riggs said. ''It doesn't matter who's starting. When that happened, the first thing that clicked in my mind was: 'OK, let's go. This is my time. They're going to ask me to carry the ball a little more, make some plays, and that's what I'm going to do.'

''I felt bad for Ced. He's not just a teammate, he's a friend, and I didn't want to see anything bad happen to him. But I had it in my mind that I was going to do whatever I could to perform and make plays.''

The 15 carries vs. Florida represented a career high for Riggs. His previous high of 13 rushes (for 51 yards) came against Mississippi State in 2003.

''The more carries you get, the better you feel,'' he said. ''Any running back who tells you it doesn't happen that way would be lying to you. Every once in a while, you'll pop off a big run on your first carry but that's rare. Usually, the more carries you get the better you're going to feel.''

The depth chart for Game 3 vs. Louisiana Tech lists the tailback as: Cedric Houston OR Gerald Riggs. Apparently, he proved himself to the coaches with his play against Florida.

''I think I proved a lot,'' he said. ''I proved that at any point in the game they can put me in and do exactly what they want to do -- whether it's run the ball, pass protect, catch the ball. I didn't catch the ball in that game but I was open at times.

''They know they can trust that I'll be where I'm supposed to be and that I have the concentration in the crucial situations to do what they ask me to do. I proved that they can put me in the game at any time.''

Riggs wears jersey number 31, the same number worn by former Vol Jamal Lewis, now an all-pro with the NFL's Baltimore Ravens. That isn't meant to suggest Riggs is Lewis' equal, however.

''I have tremendous respect for Jamal,'' Riggs said. ''I grew up watching Jamal, and he was a geat player. In my opinion, he's one of the greatest to play in college ... had he not been hurt and missed a lot of playing time because of injury.

''But I wear that jersy now, and that's what matters. I go out there and do the best I can to try and represent this team.''

Although Riggs performed well vs. Florida, Corey Larkins and Jabari Davis shared the Vol tailback duties in the final quarter. The Gerald Riggs of old -- moody and easily frustrated -- might have pouted. Not this time.

''I may have handled it a little different, out of maturity,'' he said. ''My attitude wasn't necessarily the best last year. I was so anxious to play -- to be called on like I had been at the high school level -- I probably would've handled it a little bit different. That's where the maturity steps in.''

Interestingly enough, Riggs' added maturity arrived at the same time new running backs coach Trooper Taylor did. Taylor gave every Vol back a ''clean slate,'' meaning all of Riggs' past sins were forgiven. That has made a world of difference for the 6-0, 220-pound junior from Chattanooga.

''I feel like, no matter what, Trooper's going to put in the guy that's hot,'' Riggs said. ''He's going to play whoever's deserving of it. The only reason you won't play in any game is because of something you did to hurt yourself -- not practicing well, not knowing your assignments, not going to class, missing meetings. That's why you won't play. It won't be for any other reason.

''Everybody's bought into that and trusts that when Trooper says he's going to do something, he's going to do it.''


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