By Alex Norman
Former Vols running back Gerald Riggs Jr. is preparing for another season in professional football.
This winter he’s been working out with former Vols strength and conditioning coach Johnny Long. Riggs has also been seen honing his craft at the University of Tennessee football complex.
When you examine what Riggs has dealt with since leaving UT after the 2005 season, it is remarkable that he’s still out there, battling and focused on his goals.
“I believe in what I can do,” said Riggs in a recent phone interview with the Knoxville Focus. “I feel that I have a God-given ability to play football, and felt that it would have been an injustice not to do all I can to play this game. I won’t quit on myself. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself.”
Injuries to his lower right leg and ankle, which he suffered in the 2005 Alabama game, ended his college career during the middle of his senior season. Those injuries were also a major reason why he wasn’t selected in the 2006 NFL Draft, starting him on a challenging road to stay in the game.
Riggs signed a free agent contract with the Miami Dolphins (2006), but didn’t make the roster. He also got looks from the Chicago Bears (2007) and the Detroit Lions (2009), but wasn’t able to stick with either franchise. His only pro experience came with the Rhein Fire from the now defunct NFL Europe league in 2007.
That all changed last summer… Riggs’ perseverance paid off with a spot on the roster of the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts.
In four games with the Argos, Riggs gained 220 yards on the ground, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. The Argos won the Grey Cup last season.
“It was a sense of accomplishment considering all that I have been through,” said Riggs. “I play hard for the guys that want to keep playing but can’t. I’m here now and want to make the most of the opportunity.”
One fact of life in the Canadian Football League is that “Canadian” part. League rules state that nearly half the roster must be made up of Canadian born players. With so much talent from south of the border, being able to stay on a CFL roster can be tough.
“It is difficult. There are a lot of deserving guys that get left out,” said Riggs. “But that is the way it works. A lot of good players don’t get to show what they can do. I understand why that is, those are the rules and we live with it. It makes you work even harder.”
It’s not a surprise that some former Vols have made their way to the CFL. Jonathan Hefney, Demonte’ Bolden and Demetrice Morley all played in the league last season.
“There is always a bond with college athletes,” said Riggs. “It lasts and we have lots of respect for each other. We are close and we hang out when in our respective cities.”
When Riggs thinks about his time in Knoxville, memories turn to the 2004 season. Riggs, then a junior, gained 1107 yards, and helped lead the Vols to the SEC East title. His 182 rushing yards in the SEC title game against an Auburn team that would finish the season 13-0 opened a lot of eyes, but that kind of success was something Riggs expected from the moment he set foot on the UT campus.
“I had been screaming for them to give me a chance (Riggs gained a total of 256 yards in his first two seasons) and I finally got the opportunity,” said Riggs. “I proved I was right.”
And it has been a football career in which Riggs has had to show fans, teammates and especially coaches that he belonged. He’s still fighting that battle.
“I love Toronto, but I still want to get back to the National Football League. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. I have a desire to be great. You hope that you get noticed,” said Riggs. “I’m 29 but I feel young and need to get that point out there. I don’t have as much mileage because I didn’t play as much as other 29 year olds.”
Riggs added, “My journey is far from over.”
You can keep up with him on Facebook at Gerald Riggs Jr. and on twitter (his handle is @GSpizz2131).