Riggs ready to ramble

Heralded freshman <a target='_new' href='http://scout.theinsiders.com/a.z?s=7&p=8&c=1&nid=313836&yr=2002'>Gerald Riggs, Jr.</a>, knows that UT football history is dotted with rookie tailbacks who made immediate impact ... Aaron Hayden, Little Man Stewart and <a target='_new' href='http://scout.theinsiders.com/a.z?s=7&p=8&c=1&nid=266235&yr=2002'>Jamal Lewis</a> to name a few. But he doesn't envision himself following in their footsteps just yet.

''You think, 'Other freshmen have done it, so why can't you do it?' '' he said earlier this week. ''You go out and work that much harder, knowing that if you bust your butt and make plays, you'll get in there.

''But, at the same time, you don't put too much stock in it because they were here at different times and maybe their situation was different. Things probably worked out for them in a different way than they may for you. All I can do is work hard and be ready when they call on me.''

From all appearances, Riggs is ready. He has performed so well in preseason that he is penciled in for playing time in Saturday's opener against Wyoming. Even he is a little surprised by the progress he has made.

''Honestly, I'm probably ahead of where I thought I'd be,'' Riggs said. ''I thought I would still be learning a little more and I thought I probably wouldn't be working with the first- and second-team offense too much. I've been able to get in there and work with them the last few days. I think I'm ahead of where I thought I'd be.''

That's probably because he's healthy again. Riggs broke a bone in his ankle as a high school senior and struggled thereafter. He was hardly a factor as Red Bank High lost to Maryville in the state playoffs last November.

''When I played up here against Maryville, I could barely cut,'' he recalled. ''It hurt to even walk on it but I played because that was my last high school game. I felt the responsibility to play because it was my team, and I was asked to lead.''

Next came an equally unimpressive performance in the National High School All-Star Game.

''I tried to go out there and do a little something,'' he said, ''but it just didn't work.''

He then made his first appearance at Neyland Stadium, playing in the Tennessee-Kentucky All-Star Classic last June. His ankle was improving by this time but he had another injury to deal with.

''I had a thigh bruise,'' he recalled. ''It healed up in time for the game but I obviously wasn't 100 percent.''

Even now, as his college debut approaches, he isn't in peak health.

''I'm still not 100 percent,'' Riggs said, referring to the injured ankle. ''But I feel a lot better than in the past and I'm able to do a lot more things.''

Healthy or not, the chance to play in a college game this Saturday will mark the fulfillment of a life-long dream for him.

''I've been waiting for this chance a long time,'' he said. ''If I'd had my choice, I would've left high school a long time ago.... I've been waiting for this ever since I started watching football. College football was the first football I ever watched. I watched my dad play (with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons) but I didn't know what was going on. I was real young. It's been my dream my whole life to play Div. 1 college football. Now that I'm here, I'm just going to try and make the best of it.''

Although he lists St. Louis Rams star Marshall Faulk as his favorite NFL back, Riggs says the back he most closely resembles is Edgerrin James of the Indianapolis Colts.

''If you're talking about a guy who's more akin to me, I'd say Edgerrin James because he's able to do a lot more things than normal backs,'' Riggs said. ''He's got the speed, he's got the hands, he's got the obvious running ability. He can make a lot of moves, make people miss. I think he's probably one of the best around.''

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