- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The biggest addition to Notre Dame's roster visited campus shortly after national signing day, the sub-zero temperatures offering a less-than-warm greeting to the Sunshine State native in search of a new home.
"I don't even know what that feels like," Cody Riggs said of the memory.
Cold weather was about the only thing Riggs was unfamiliar with upon his arrival from Florida. The graduate transfer has played cornerback, nickelback and safety. He has defended passes against the best of the SEC and has gained first-hand lessons from a family long on football lineage.
Now he's the man the Irish are looking at to stabilize their last line of defense, a redshirt senior who had already locked down a starting corner job before KeiVarae Russell and three others got suspended as part of the school's academic probe.
"He clearly is our top guy," head coach Brian Kelly said, adding, "He's been more than advertised for us. He's been a leader, he's been accountable, he's been a guy that can play multiple positions. It's going to be difficult now to play him in multiple positions."
Riggs' transfer was borne by academic desires as much as football ones. He earned his undergraduate degree as a Gator in family, youth and community sciences. He enrolled this summer in Notre Dame's master of science in management program.
He was thrown into an accelerated program of a different kind this summer as he tried to learn a new defense, which helped for the simple fact that his fellow teammates were also still adapting to new coordinator Brian VanGorder.
"I was struggling this summer because I just got here, it was rough," Riggs said. "But I think I'm very comfortable with it, with the terms. The language was completely different and that was the hardest part for me. But now that the language is down I communicate better with the coaches and explain to them what I don't understand and why is this that."
Added VanGorder: "He was at Florida with Coach (Will) Muschamp. He’s been through a lot of scheme work in his career. His value to us has been invaluable, so to speak. It’s been great to have him.”
Riggs will also have a chance to boost the Irish's anemic punt return game, as Kelly anointed him and running back Greg Bryant as his primary punt returners. Riggs was a kick returner at St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) High and spent plenty of time on special teams while in Gainesville, but never as the punt returner, a role he asked about upon his arrival to Notre Dame. He said he is relishing the chance to get another 10 chances or so to impact each game.
Regardless, Riggs' role will be huge, especially with Russell not currently in the picture. At Florida, the 5-foot-9, 185-pounder tallied 107 total tackles (nine for loss), two sacks, an interception, a forced fumble and eight pass break-ups in a variety of roles.
"You can see that he's not afraid of anything," defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks said. "He's played in the SEC, he's played against high-level wide receivers and quarterbacks for years. He's got awesome leadership; doesn't say a lot vocally, but he comes to work every day, preparation is on point. So I'm very, very pleased. I told him that he's the best free-agent pickup that I've had since I've been in college football."
Riggs' father is former All-Pro NFL running back Gerald Riggs. His brother, Gerald Jr., starred as a running back Tennessee before playing briefly in the NFL and CFL. His uncle, Bobby Brown, also played briefly in the NFL, after starring as a receiver at Notre Dame.
Riggs was familiar with the Irish thanks to that connection, and thanks to his old Florida roommate, current Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy. Murphy's father, Peter, is a die-hard Notre Dame fan who gave Riggs a call shortly after he landed with the Irish.
"Seeing Cody go to Notre Dame and get a chance to get his MBA there and play there, me and my dad are both excited for him and happy for him," Tyler Murphy said. "We're looking forward to seeing him finish off his career and have a great season."
4hSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information