Jordan Wells / TheHoosier.com
Sophomore cornerback A’Shon Riggins’ first start of his Indiana football career included an interception against then-No. 2 Ohio State at Ohio Stadium in Columbus.
Not bad for a true freshman.
To get to that point, though, he had to earn the trust of his position coach, Brandon Shelby. That trust earned him a start opposite redshirt senior Rashard Fant at the other boundary corner position in each of the Hoosiers’ final seven regular season games last year.
Now Riggins is working on maintaining that level of trust in a competitive cornerbacks room this spring.
“I’m understanding football a little bit more,” Riggins said. “With me having to start last year and learn the defense a little faster, now that we’re reinstalling everything it’s easy to me now. Everything’s going pretty smooth.”
In addition to that interception, the Hamilton [Ohio] High School product recorded 37 total tackles and a forced fumble while starting in 8 of the 12 games he played in last season.
To earn the right to have those opportunities as a true freshman, Riggins had to build trust with Shelby. Riggins’ athleticism – he was a two-sport athlete who played both basketball and football at Hamilton – coming out of high school would not be enough.
Earning that trust, according to Shelby, requires adhering to two key rules.
“Do what you say what you’re going to do, and don’t lie to me,” Shelby said. “From there, him learning his assignments. That’s how you play at Ohio State as a true freshman.”
Shelby also praised Riggins’ ability to quickly adjust to a new role, one that came out of necessity.
Now, the key is to build off that, according to Shelby. But doing so won’t be easy.
For one, there’s the two rules Shelby has about earning trust. Then there’s his other rule about who gets to play.
“He had some great attributes at the end of the year, but that’s last year,” Shelby said. “My rule is, the best two people are going to play, and if he isn’t one of the best two people, he won’t be starting. Nothing’s promised to you, but he’s earned the right to go into spring as a starter.”
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson once said “separation is in the preparation,” and it is through preparation that Riggins appears to be trying to set himself apart and keep that starting job.
In working with Shelby this spring, the two have prioritized widening the scope of Riggins’ knowledge of the defense.
“It’s just breaking down film a little bit more in meetings than we did last year,” Riggins said. “Understanding the scheme, understanding why we’re doing things on defense. Instead of the way just the corners work, the way maybe the safeties and the huskies work and some of the linebackers, stuff that helps with the secondary too as well. So instead of simplifying it down to the just the corner position, we’re starting to stretch our minds and understand the whole thing.”
Earning the trust of his position coach and the rest of his coaching staff came quickly and afforded him the opportunity to fill in for an injured teammate. Ask Riggins, and he’ll say the chance to play as a true freshman was expected going all the way back to his recruitment.
Riggins wanted to go to a school where he could play right away, and recognized IU provided the best opportunity for him to achieve that feat.
That same forward thinking led to the seven starts that followed, as Riggins was “hungry” for more chances.
“I came up to Coach Shelby, and I was like, ‘man, I really want that boundary position,’” Riggins said. “I think from then on, he realized I was really hungry to play on the field.”
If he continues with the same approach to his preparation this spring, there’s sure to be more chances for him to satisfy that appetite.
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