Shaquille Riddick was one of the best defensive ends in the FCS last season. This season for the Mountaineers, he has the goal of being among the best in the FBS.
Two weeks ago, Riddick announced he would be transferring from Gardner-Webb to West Virginia for his final college season.
Despite coming from the FCS, Riddick could be a playmaker for a Mountaineers defense that ranked ninth in the Big 12 last year in sacks.
An FCS All-American, Riddick finished with 19 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks last season, finishing fifth in the voting for the Buck Buchanan Award, given annually to the top defensive player in the FCS.
As he prepares to move to Morgantown in July, Riddick spoke with ESPN.com about how he ended up at West Virginia, his thoughts on new defensive coordinator Tony Gibson and the impact he thinks can make despite the classification bump:
How did this all come about, going from Gardner-Webb to West Virginia?
Riddick: Well basically, I was scheduled to graduate this upcoming fall after the football season, when I found out I could graduate sooner. So that’s when the chance of playing at the FBS level came along.
When did you first starting thinking, "Hey, I can play at the FBS level?"
Riddick: Honestly, I’ve always felt that way. I knew straight out of high school I could play at the FBS level. I was just 6-6, 6-7, 175 pounds playing D-line. So no big school would take a chance on me. They didn’t think I could gain weight to the point I could be 245-250. So I never had an official visit, or a Division I scholarship offer. I went to Gardner-Webb, I started grinding, I was eating a lot in the (cafeteria), doing the things I needed to do. And that’s how I ended up 6-6, about 250 give or take.
What was the process of going from Gardner-Webb to West Virginia?
Riddick: Once I got my release, that’s when I started contacting different schools, and schools began finding out about me. I had to send (Gardner-Webb) a list of schools I was considering, then the coach had to approve those schools. I basically had every MAC school on there. I had Purdue and a couple other schools on there, too. West Virginia I guess found out, and they asked them for my release. And they gave them my release. I think Ohio State and UCLA, too. Ohio State, I think, wanted to offer me, but I didn’t talk to them before I committed to West Virginia.
So you basically listed a bunch of MAC schools, since you’re from Akron, and West Virginia -- and Ohio State and UCLA, too -- hears about this and calls Gardner-Webb to see if you can get released there?
Riddick: Exactly. Ohio State called a couple times for me. I actually didn’t talk to them. I probably would’ve talked to them that week I committed, but I was already satisfied with West Virginia. And I got an offer from UCLA the night before I decided to commit to West Virginia.
So West Virginia getting on it quickly gave them an advantage in ultimately getting you to Morgantown?
Riddick: Yes, basically that’s exactly what happened. This is my senior year, and I knew the urgency of this whole process. I didn’t have time to wait and visit a whole bunch of places before I made a decision. Because I needed to get started at that program and get acclimated with that playbook and everything else, so I can come in and take a dominating role in the fall. So I wasn’t going to waste a bunch of time to make this decision. West Virginia was the first big school to come at me, so they kinda had the upper hand. And they got me on campus, and I liked the scheme the defense ran. I felt like I could make a lot of plays in it with Coach Gibson’s new touch to the 3-4 that they have.
What does "new touch to the 3-4" mean exactly?
Riddick: Well, it’s not the same system as last year. It’s still a 3-4. But I’m gonna be on the edge more, on the side where the tight end is not. I’m going to be in a cocked stance, instead of being head up with the tackle like they did last year a lot.
So basically the idea is this defense is going to be geared more toward getting after the passer, correct?
Riddick: Exactly. So I feel like I can come in and dominate the Big 12 with this system. It just felt like the right fit.
What did you think of Coach Gibson?
Riddick: I actually talked to Coach Gibson a whole lot, the whole time I was there. Me and him clicked and got a good relationship. He’s very straight forward. He tells me how it is, how it’s gonna be. And I’m just ready to get started and get to work with him.
Did you get to talk with Coach (Tom) Bradley, as well?
Riddick: I talked to Coach Bradley for a long time, too. He’s an amazing guy. He has a lot of experience at a high level. He was at Penn State longer than anyone except [Joe Paterno]. They know what they’re doing when it comes to the position I play.
West Virginia opens up with Alabama -- how pumped are you about being on that stage?
Riddick: Oh yeah, I’m beyond excited. Since I made this decision, or was even considering West Virginia as a landing place for me, I’ve been excited. I know if I dominate in that game alone, I could instantly be the next big end that comes out.
Staying at Gardner Webb, I think I could still make it to the NFL. But something inside of me, you know I never played on that big stage, and the opportunity to play on the bigger stage and play closer to my mom and my family is something I’ve always wanted. I had a real good season at the FCS last year. And I honestly believe I was the best defensive end in the FCS last year. I actually got the FCS award for that. I just want to take that to the FBS level, and show I can dominate the exact same way. I firmly believe there’s no defensive end in the country that’s better than me. I don’t think there’s anybody out there that can do what I can do on the field. So I’m confident, or I wouldn’t have decided to go to this level.