Jan 1, 2013, 6:26 PM EDT
In one of Brian Kelly’s first meetings with the media after taking over Notre Dame’s football team, he gushed about Theo Riddick. The soon-to-be sophomore became one of Kelly’s early projects, with a move to slot receiver designed to get the ball to Riddick early and often and fill a vacancy on a roster in desperate need of pass catchers.
Yet the move didn’t bring immediate success. As much as everybody knew Riddick was a player that could make things happen, the results were a mixed bag. After a slow start in 2010, Riddick exploded against Michigan State and caught 33 balls over four games before an ankle injury rendered him ineffective the rest of the season.
Entering 2011 expecting bigger things, Kelly once again identified Riddick as one of his premiere playmakers. The Irish coaching staff bet big on Riddick’s skillset on special teams, with the hopes that he’d add a dynamic element to the return game.
“What I’ve said to Theo is he’ll take his blows on offense,” Kelly said before the Irish’s season opening game against South Florida. “If he needs a play or two because he’s playing special teams, he’ll take it on offense.
“He has to be a huge impact for us in special teams.”
Unfortunately, that impact turned out to be a negative one, as Riddick struggled mightily as the team’s primary punt returner as he looked horribly uncomfortable returning punts and fumbled the ball away to USF in their shocking season opening loss. While he rallied with two touchdowns against Michigan the next week, Riddick never resumed his role as the team’s return specialist, and a season that opened with so much promise individually for Riddick went the way of the team, with Riddick all but mirroring the production of his sophomore season — just like the Irish did with a replica 8-5 season — a disappointment for everyone, all things considered.
With Jonas Gray going down to a serious knee injury and Riddick banged up late in the season as well, the junior returned to the lineup as a back-up running back, getting eight carries for a respectable 36 yards against Florida State in the bowl loss.
After three seasons, Theo Riddick’s role on the Irish offense was still up in the air. Playing for a coach that was known for his ability to develop players, the struggles Riddick had finding his role in the Irish offense were puzzling. With a return to the backfield in store for his senior season — again to help fill a deficiency in the depth chart — even sparkling early returns after an impressive spring, left many skeptical.
Yet Riddick’s senior season has been a triumph on multiple levels. The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder went from being a mismatching piece of the puzzle to the team’s bell cow. After being a player who’s productivity was riddled by ups-and-downs, Riddick’s senior season was a marvel of consistency. Taking over as the starting running back while Cierre Wood sat for the team’s first two games, Riddick never gave up the job — trusted by Kelly to run for the tough yards and be the team’s most versatile weapon.
That Riddick was able to make that transformation again speaks to player development. And while it sometimes takes longer than you’d like it to, when the light bulb finally goes on, it’s a tremendously rewarding situation.
Running back’s coach Tony Alford — who has been Riddick’s position coach for all four seasons at Notre Dame — talked about Riddick’s transformation last week, recalling one of the key moments in the senior’s development.
ESPN’s Matt Fortuna told the story:
Shortly after Riddick’s return to the backfield — where he would bear some of his old responsibilities as a slot man, too — the senior messed up an assignment. Bad.
Head coach Brian Kelly, in no pleasant terms, let Riddick hear about it. And the response was night and day from what Alford had come to expect.
“When I saw a distinct change is when Coach Kelly ripped him a new one for a mistake that was made and got after him,” Alford said. “And instead of Theo going in the tank, which he had a tendency to do, and to shut things off when Coach would get after him, he looked up and said: ‘Yes, sir. I got it.’ He patted Coach on the rear end, said: ‘I got it,’ turned around, walked away and got it. Versus pouting, where he had a tendency to do that earlier in his career.
“Which told me that he’s finally getting it. This is not a personal attack. We’re trying to get you better.”
And Riddick’s gotten nothing but better all season. While he sometimes struggled to put up the type of production you’d expect from a No. 1 running back, he continued to be the guy Kelly counted on, the head coach willing to sacrifice a few yards in the name of stability and consistency.
“I think when we got him back with the ball in his hand as a running back he really blossomed as a complete player,” Kelly said of Riddick. “I think the stages that he went through this year were that he exerted his will. He played physical. He had a determination. He made a number of big plays during the year.”
No plays were bigger than the ones he made against USC, where Riddick carried the Irish offense as a runner, grinding out tough carries between the tackles but also showing the elusiveness and skills in the open field that long dazzled the coaching staff.
Heading into his final game for the Irish, Theo Riddick is the dynamic player many expected to see these past four years. It’s just taken a little bit longer for him to get there.
Better late than never.
Aug 27, 2014, 12:16 PM EDT
The season is finally here. Got questions before the opener? Drop them in the comments or over on Twitter @KeithArnold.
Aug 27, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT
Notre Dame opens the 2014 season with a visit from Rice on Saturday afternoon. While on paper, a matchup with the Conference USA squad looks like it could be a good way to get the rust off, taking the Owls lightly would be a large mistake. The Houston Chronicle’s Joseph Duarte gets us ready for Rice.
Aug 26, 2014, 8:38 PM EDT
Brian Kelly announced his captains for the 2014 season, naming safety Austin Collinsworth, defensive lineman Sheldon Day, center Nick Martin and running back Cam McDaniel his four leaders for the upcoming season.
Aug 26, 2014, 5:32 PM EDT
After enrolling early this winter, Andrew Trumbetti has forced his way into the starting lineup. Irish A-to-Z looks at the freshman defensive end slated to start against Rice.
Aug 26, 2014, 1:50 PM EDT
When Brian Kelly leads Notre Dame out of the tunnel to open the 2014 season on Saturday afternoon, he’ll be leading his youngest and most inexperienced team into battle on the new artificial surface of Notre Dame Stadium. He’ll also be short three key starters, still left in limbo as an academic investigation and Honor Code ruling continues.
Aug 25, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
If there’s one coach counting on freshman Drue Tranquill to find the football field, it’s head coach Brian Kelly. Irish A-to-Z looks at the freshman safety who earned his scholarship thanks to Kelly’s evaluation of his high school film.
Aug 25, 2014, 10:46 AM EDT
After watching Zack Martin quietly spend four years dominating along the Irish offensive line, junior Ronnie Stanley steps in at left tackle. Irish A-to-Z looks at Notre Dame’s new starting left tackle.
Aug 24, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Don’t look now, but the Irish might have another elite tight end in the making. That’s the expectation for sophomore Durham Smythe, our next entry in the Irish A-to-Z series.
Aug 24, 2014, 9:34 AM EDT
We are about to get an idea of how good sophomore Jaylon Smith can truly be. Irish A-to-Z continues with a look at Notre Dame’s star linebacker.
Aug 23, 2014, 5:13 PM EDT
Notre Dame awarded scholarships to veteran walk-ons Connor Cavalaris, Charlie Fiessinger and Tyler Plantz. The trio will get a free year of education during the 2014-15 school year, awarded for their hard work.
Aug 22, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
A blue-chip recruit who immediately contributed on the 2012 defense, junior Elijah Shumate is still looking to find his fit in the Irish defense. Irish A-to-Z takes a closer look at the New Jersey native.
Aug 21, 2014, 3:48 PM EDT
Senior linebacker Joe Schmidt might still carry with him the tag of walk-on. But he’s also one of the key leaders on an Irish defense that’s counting on the senior to play key minutes as the man in the middle of Notre Dame’s defense. Irish A-to-Z continues with a look at Notre Dame’s starting middle linebacker.
Aug 21, 2014, 1:29 PM EDT
It’s been a hectic last week inside the Notre Dame football program. Between suspensions, media day and the home-stretch of our A-to-Z series, it’s time to get to some football.
Aug 21, 2014, 12:20 PM EDT
With training camp over and Notre Dame transitioning to game prep, football is almost here. But for one more look back at the Irish’s time at Culver Academy and another behind-the-scenes look at the program, our friends at Fighting Irish Digital Media present a new edition of the always excellent Strong & True series.
Aug 20, 2014, 8:26 PM EDT
Inked to help fill a running back depth chart in need of reinforcements, KeiVarae Russell became a cornerback by accident. Irish A-to-Z continues with a look at an All-American candidate with his season up for grabs, an academic investigation determining Russell’s role on the 2014 team.
Aug 20, 2014, 1:03 PM EDT
Of the players made available to the media yesterday, grad student Cody Riggs wasn’t among them. But the cornerback stopped by UND.com’s Media Day coverage, and after watching his interview with Jack Nolan it’s hard not to be impressed.
Aug 19, 2014, 9:57 PM EDT
With access to Brian Kelly, his assistants and a handful of veteran players, today’s Media Day felt a little different than most. That’s understandable, with the aftermath of unexpected academic suspensions still lingering over the program. With the investigation still on media lockdown, speculation has varied widely, but it’s clear that Kelly is moving forward, the only thing a head coach can do.
Aug 18, 2014, 7:28 PM EDT
The Irish practiced today without four suspended veterans, as an academic investigation continues at Notre Dame about potential Honor Code violations committed by DaVaris Daniels, Kendall Moore, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams. And with rumors swirling and little actual info coming out of anyone inside the program, Phillip Daniels was a guest on NBC 5’s Sports Sunday, and spoke candidly about his son’s situation.
Aug 18, 2014, 6:07 PM EDT
Providing depth in 2013, sophomore Isaac Rochell just became a very large part of Notre Dame’s plans this season. Irish A-to-Z continues with a lock at Notre Dame’s accidental starter at defensive end.
Aug 18, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Notre Dame plays Rice in less than two weeks. While that might take a backseat to the interest following the academic investigation that’s underway, the Irish are preparing for a football game, and 15 practices into camp, things are starting to come together.
- And in that corner… The Rice Owls 0
- Kelly names Collinsworth, Day, Martin and McDaniel captains 37
- Setting the bar: Expectations for the 2014 Irish 79
- Irish A-to-Z: Jaylon Smith 15
- With all eyes watching, a dig for truth begins at Notre Dame 132
- Academic misconduct investigation underway at Notre Dame 58