Seizing the opportunity

With Chuck Harris’ status uncertain, it’s time for Taylor Riggins to step up

taylor-riggins

By Week 8 of the college football season, it is hard or nearly impossible to find a team in the country that has not suffered an injury. The Bulls have dealt with injuries to senior wide receiver Anthony Johnson, senior cornerback Cameron Lewis and most recently, senior defensive end Chuck Harris.

Harris went down in the second half of Saturday’s game against the Akron Zips. His status remains uncertain for this week. If he is unable to play then it falls on sophomore defensive end Taylor Riggins to replace the impact he has had.

Riggins has played only seven games in his collegiate career, but coaching staff speak about him like he is the next big thing for the Bulls’ program. 

By Week 8 of the college football season, it is hard or nearly impossible to find a team in the country that has not suffered an injury. The Bulls have dealt with injuries to senior wide receiver Anthony Johnson, senior cornerback Cameron Lewis and most recently, senior defensive end Chuck Harris.

Riggins was a three-star recruit coming out of Aquinas Institute in Rochester before committing to the University of Massachusetts despite attempts by UB to recruit him. He spent two years only able to watch on the sidelines but now seizes every opportunity he gets at UB.

“Pretty much, if we had a team full of him we'd be okay,” said defensive ends coach Roc Bellantoni. “At least another 12 of him, some tight ends and some linebackers, but you can win a lot of games with guys like Taylor Riggins.”

Riggins grew up watching Miami Dolphins games with his dad. His father was a college basketball player but wanted his son to be like his favorite football player, Jason Taylor. Taylor is a hall-of-fame defensive end and Riggins tries to bring that strength and dominance into his own game.

And when Riggins enters a game, he dominates.

On his first drive against Akron, Riggins recorded sacks on consecutive plays.

But Riggins doesn’t care about stats or accolades. He is not the “ra-ra jump around guy,” according to Bellantoni. 

“He's got a flame inside him that burns and his motor never quits,” Bellantoni said. “He never takes a play off. I don't think he's got a lack of effort on one play since he's been here. It's something within him that's burning.”

Riggins follows his high school’s motto of goodness, discipline and knowledge. He wants to keep the Aquinas image and set an example for the current players at the school.

Although he is a sophomore, it is his third year playing college football. 

Riggins learned to be a more vocal leader and to help the guys that need it the most from senior center James O’Hagan. Riggins mostly teaches the younger players that are not seen as much like redshirt-freshmen defensive ends Jaylin Nolden and Eric Black.

Riggins is not seen much on the field. He has patiently waited on the sideline for his chance to shine. Riggins developed by watching the guys who came before him like current Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Demone Harris.

Saturday might be his first chance to shine. Riggins can be in the starting lineup and play 50 snaps instead of 15. 

“I'm a little bit nervous but I just need to go out there and do everything I'm taught and make the most of it,” Riggins said.

“You can see when he came in he's made plays,” said head coach Lance Leipold. “Whether or not he has to play a lot and has to play the most he has to in his career, but I have great confidence in him and I know our coaches do as well and I know he will rise to the occasion.”

Riggins is an unsung hero of the defensive line. Coaches praise him for his work ethic, willingness to learn and that he does exactly what they need him to do. 

“You need a lot of those guys on your team” Leipold said.

Riggins praises strength and conditioning coach Lewis Caralla for changing the team’s mindset and his own. Riggins in an “animal in the weight room” and was a huge leader for the team in the offseason, according to Bellantoni.

He may be nervous but having the praise from the coaching staff gives Riggins confidence ahead of what might be the most football he’s played in three years.

“He's so quiet, you don't really know what to think of him until you get to know him,” Bellantoni said. “He's all business.”

Nathaniel Mendelson is the sports editor and can be reached at nathaniel.mendelson@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @NateMendelson