Riggs returns with a bigger role at safety

All Cody Riggs could feel for the better part of 2012 was pain.

Both mentally and physically, last season was one of the toughest times for the veteran defensive back to endure.

What started as a season in which the 5-foot-9 firecracker was poised to line up all over Florida's secondary, ended after less than two full games when Riggs fractured a bone in his right foot in the first half of the Gators' 20-17 win over Texas A&M.

Riggs was forced to sit and watch his teammates complete comeback victories over the Aggies and Tennessee in consecutive weeks before shutting things down during Florida's 11-win season and a return to a BCS bowl game for the first time since 2009, a year before Riggs made it on campus.

"We were having this great season, and it was really humbling to sit back and watch it and realize that I don't have football right now," said Riggs, who will be a redshirt junior this fall. "It was tough to watch those guys, but I was their biggest fan."

Riggs spent most nights sleeping in his walking boot, and it took him a month of hobbling around on crutches before he could walk again. He couldn't jog until late November, and he started running just before the Allstate Sugar Bowl in January.

Despite his frustration, Riggs used his free time scrupulously studying the game. He stayed in shape physically by swimming and running in a pool. His mind stayed in shape, while his head spent more time in the playbook.

And it certainly paid off, as Riggs returns to the football field this season at a new position. The lifelong cornerback will step onto Florida Field on Saturday against Toledo as one of the Gators' new starting safeties.

With valuable starters Matt Elam and Josh Evans gone, Riggs has big shoes to feel, but he feels comfortable slipping into either pair. He's comfortable at both spots now, but when he was first learning the position last fall, Riggs was anything but comfy.

"I'm gonna be honest, I was pretty lost," Riggs said with a laugh.

He went from listening for calls to making them. He was now having to recognize formations, make checks to certain formations and get everyone lined up in front of him.

And that was all before the snap.

After the snap, he was taking on more blocks, playing the run, figuring out run fits and making more plays off the edge. It was a mouthful of responsibility for Riggs to digest, but what saved him from choking on all that information was his devotion to film study.

"Yeah, I watched a lot of film," Riggs said. "I have to watch more film than the average person."

Riggs estimated that he watched two hours of film a day before fall camp started.

While Riggs hopes his extra time with the tape pays off, he knows a major advantage in his transition is the fact that he's been here before.

In the three-plus years that Riggs has spent at Florida, he's lined up at boundary cornerback, nickel corner, nickel safety, strong safety and free safety. Just about all of his time has been devoted to time outside, but Riggs said he feels familiarity will carry him.

"I feel comfortable wherever," he said. "I've played every position on this defense [backfield]. I've been a starter at every position, so it's wherever they want me to play during a game."

Something Riggs thinks will also help at his new position is his physical style. Despite his pint-sized frame, Riggs has never shied away from contact with bigger players. He'll have even more opportunities to do that at safety.

Before, Riggs was just getting his hands on opponents at the line. Now, he's getting it in the open field against running backs, in the box and behind the line. It feels good, Riggs said, and he believes that and his natural ability to cover players down the field will work to his advantage.

But for Riggs, it's more than just understanding the position. He wants to play. His absence from the field has tormented him, and Saturday will show just how far he's come in the past year.

"It means a lot to me. I've been dying to prove myself," he said.