Commentary

Diggs plays beyond his age

The freshman cornerback was voted the Big 12 freshman defensive player of the year

Updated: December 13, 2011, 3:49 PM ET
By Carter Strickland | HornsNation

AUSTIN, Texas -- Quandre Diggs started out following in his brother's footsteps.

[+] EnlargeQuandre Diggs
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesQuandre Diggs proved his talents not only as a cornerback, but on special teams as a returner.
Now he has stepped right into Quentin Jammer's shadow.

That's where the freshman will be Dec. 28. Same city -- San Diego. Same field -- Qualcomm Stadium. Even the same locker room.

"It actually fits right into my Christmas plans," Diggs said.

Everything tied up with a nice little bow on top.

The package Diggs delivered to Texas, to say the contents were a surprise, would be more than a slight understatement. Oh sure, Texas knew it had something nice and shiny. But it also knew it was something new. And in college football, newer isn't necessarily better.

"You never really know when an incoming freshman comes in how he will absorb the game mentally because there's much more schematics than they've been used to," defensive backs coach Duane Akina said. "How will the handle the speed of the game? Because everything is much quicker. How will they handle the physical side? Everything is faster, bigger, stronger. Will he be intimidated by all of that?"

Not a chance. Not with Diggs' lineage. Diggs was the kid in tow around Austin back when Jammer and Major Applewhite were roommates. He knew this environment. Knew the players. And knew what he had to do to not just to get to Texas, but to excel at Texas.

"He's worked out with the best in the world, so he's not intimidated by anything," Akina said. "For him to come in and learn as quickly as he has is really something."

It wasn't just the cornerback position Diggs had to learn. Texas also used him as the primary punt returner once Jaxon Shipley was hurt against Kansas. He averaged 22.6 yards per return, including an 81-yarder that pushed Texas over the top against Texas A&M. He also returned kicks, averaging 19.1 yards per effort.

Akina said, in his decade at Texas, he could not remember a freshman asked to fill as many roles.

"We've asked him to wear a lot of hats," Akina said. "He just started off as a backup corner. He showed he could do that. He trots out as punt returner and shows he can do that. We put him as kick returner and we get the same result. You just keep adding more and more and he seems to be handling it all. All of this on top of him being a very productive defensive player in a very explosive offensive conference."

He did so well that last week he was named the top freshman defensive player in the Big 12 by the conference's coaches.

"He does exactly what the coaches ask him to do," Applewhite said. "He loves football. He has a tremendous amount of self-pride. So he doesn't want to let himself down or the other teammates down. So he gives it his all."

The one knock is there is really not that much of Diggs to give. Diggs is listed at 5-foot-10. That might be generous. It's also slightly undersized when it comes to defensive backs, especially in a conference where most of the receivers are over 6-feet tall and on a team where the defensive coordinator prefers man-to-man coverage.

But Diggs handles it. He picked of three passes this season. He had his hands on plenty of others. He also had 13 pass breakups and was part of a pass defense that was 14th in pass efficiency and 47th in total yards allowed.

"He's one of those 5'9 guys that plays 9'5," Applewhite said. "He's a football player. He's one of those guys that when you meet him you just go, 'That guy's a good player.' He talks it. He breathes it. He sleeps it."

Now he will get to play it in the same place his older brother does.

"It's great to be able to play in the stadium that your older brother plays in," Diggs said. "It's the same as here."

Carter Strickland covers University of Texas football and recruiting for HornsNation

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