Skip to content

Ten players, ten reasons: Theo Riddick

Jan 1, 2013, 6:26 PM EDT

Notre Dame v USC Getty Images

The fifth in a series on ten below-the-radar players whose performances helped key the Irish’s run to the national title game. Others include Zeke Motta, Danny Spond, TJ Jones and Prince Shembo.

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.

 

Latest Posts
  1. Irish A-to-Z: Peter Mokwuah

    Jul 29, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT

    Photo property of Rich Clark Photo property of Rich Clark

    It didn’t take long for Notre Dame’s coaching staff to know they wanted to offer Peter Mokwuah. After getting a glimpse of the big-bodied defensive tackle, Brian VanGorder and Brian Kelly went to Staten Island and left with a key piece to the depth chart.

  2. Notre Dame releases training camp schedule

    Jul 29, 2015, 2:11 PM EDT

    Brian Kelly Brian Kelly

    We are a little more than a week away from the start of the 2015 football season. Notre Dame released their training camp schedule on Wednesday, highlighting the key dates leading up to the season opener against Texas.

  3. Irish A-to-Z: Mike McGlinchey

    Jul 29, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT

    Stanford v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Last preseason, Mike McGlinchey was the odd-man out along the offensive line, losing out on the opportunity to be the team’s starting right tackle. Entering 2015, he’s one of the key X factors that’ll determine whether or not Harry Hiestand’s offensive line is one of the best in the country.

  4. Irish A-to-Z: Jacob Matuska

    Jul 29, 2015, 11:45 AM EDT

    Jacob Matuska, Reggie Bonnafon Jacob Matuska, Reggie Bonnafon

    With Notre Dame’s defense falling apart, second-year player Jacob Matuska was thrown into the fire, earning playing time after the first (and most of the second) line of defense went down. Let’s check on the rising junior as Irish A-to-Z rolls on.

  5. Irish A-to-Z: Greer Martini

    Jul 28, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT

    Brandon Radcliff, Greer Martini Brandon Radcliff, Greer Martini

    The first recruit to join the 2014 recruiting class, Greer Martini may have been envisioned as a 3-4 linebacker in Bob Diaco’s scheme, but he very quickly showed he could play anywhere the rebooted Irish defense needed him. Irish A-to-Z keeps on keepin’ on.

  6. Offseason Q&A: Boston College

    Jul 28, 2015, 12:44 PM EDT

    USC v Boston College Getty Images

    While discussing Notre Dame’s “rivals” usually turns into some type of screaming hot-take opportunity, it’s undeniable that the Irish’s date with Boston College in Fenway Park is a wonderful place to renew a “rivalry” that’s gotten a lot less regular.

  7. Irish A-to-Z: Nick Martin

    Jul 28, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT

    USC v Notre Dame Getty Images

    In his first season without his brother on campus, Nick Martin looked to make a name for himself. But 2014 was a battle for Martin, not just to escape the shadows of his All-Pro brother, but to regain his health after a lingering knee injury and a multitude of other ailments made the entire season a grind.

  8. Irish A-to-Z: Cole Luke

    Jul 27, 2015, 3:02 PM EDT

    Northwestern v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Ready or not, Cole Luke was thrown into the deep end in 2014, forced into a starting role after KeiVarae Russell’s August suspension. Paired with Cody Riggs as the team’s field cornerback, Luke more than held his own as a sophomore starter, taking on one of the most challenging schedules in college football, with elite receivers testing the Irish secondary nearly every week.

  9. Irish A-to-Z: Tyler Luatua

    Jul 27, 2015, 11:52 AM EDT

    Property of the South Bend Tribune Property of the South Bend Tribune

    Looking for a sledgehammer in an offense that sometimes gets branded finesse? Look no further than tight end Tyler Luatua. The big-bodied thumper may not look like the rest of the tight end depth chart, but certainly will come in handy as the Irish do their best to transform into a run-to-win team in 2015.

  10. Irish A-to-Z: DeShone Kizer

    Jul 26, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Purdue v Notre Dame Purdue v Notre Dame

    The big news of the spring was supposed to be DeShone Kizer ascending to the job of holder on field goals and PATs. Instead, Kizer is one snap away from being Notre Dame’s starting quarterback, his development kick-started with Everett Golson’s decision to transfer.

  11. Offseason Q&A: Wake Forest

    Jul 24, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    Dave Clawson Dave Clawson

    After Jim Grobe presided over the Wake Forest football program for 13 seasons, the school made a change bringing in coach Dave Clawson after five consecutive losing seasons. What followed was ugly, an understandable bottoming out—and a three-win season that may have been one of the least impressive in any Power Five conference.

  12. Irish A-to-Z: Jarron Jones

    Jul 24, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Notre Dame v Syracuse Notre Dame v Syracuse

    After struggling to find his way in the program as a defensive end, Jarron Jones saw a lightbulb come on after filling in for Louis Nix at nose guard. With no other options available, the Irish defensive staff called on Jones to fill Nix’s sizeable void, and Jones responded—turning the trajectory of his career around in the process.

  13. Irish A-to-Z: Alizé Jones

    Jul 23, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT

    Alize Jones, Cordell Broadus Alize Jones, Cordell Broadus

    Notre Dame won a long recruiting battle for Alizé Jones, landing one of the best tight ends in the country over UCLA. To the victor goes one of the most ready-made pass catching tight ends in the country, and Notre Dame gets a potential difference maker from the moment Jones takes the field.

  14. Irish A-to-Z: Torii Hunter Jr.

    Jul 23, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Torii Hunter Jr., Corey Robinson, Ben Koyack Torii Hunter Jr., Corey Robinson, Ben Koyack

    After a long recovery following a gruesome non-contact injury at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Torii Hunter Jr. fought his way back to the field in 2014. Now comes the hard part—playing up to the potential that had many so excited before the broken femur.

  15. Irish A-to-Z: Chase Hounshell

    Jul 22, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT

    Hounshell

    The fact that Chase Hounshell is still a part of Notre Dame’s football program is noteworthy. After shoulder surgeries essentially derailed the defensive lineman’s career, Hounshell was given the opportunity to reinvent himself this spring, serving as a tight end when many expected him to be done with the program.

  16. Irish A-to-Z: Corey Holmes

    Jul 22, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT

    Irish Illustrated / Matt Cashore Irish Illustrated / Matt Cashore

    Notre Dame finally got back into Florida high school powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas when they landed Corey Holmes. After establishing in roads with Sam Young and holding court with specialists Ben Turk and Jordan Cowart, landing an elite receiver out of one of the country’s best programs was the handy work of Tony Alford.

  17. Irish A-to-Z: Tristen Hoge

    Jul 21, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    247 Sports 247 Sports

    Harry Hiestand finally recruited a true center in early-enrollee freshman Tristen Hoge. Now it’s up to the two-time Idaho state player of the year to earn the opportunity to replace Nick Martin at the heart of the Irish offensive line.

  18. Offseason Q&A: Pitt

    Jul 21, 2015, 12:39 PM EDT

    Pat Narduzzi Pat Narduzzi

    Our Offseason Q&As continue as we look at Pat Narduzzi’s Pitt Panthers. Anson Whaley of Cardiac Hill gets us up to speed.

  19. Irish A-to-Z: Kolin Hill

    Jul 20, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT

    Stanford v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Rising sophomore Kolin Hill had a dazzling debut, notching 1.5 sacks against Michigan to send the Wolverines packing. Irish A-to-Z continues as we look at one of Notre Dame’s best pass rushers.

  20. Irish A-to-Z: Mike Heuerman

    Jul 20, 2015, 12:05 PM EDT

    Heuerman

    When Notre Dame recruited Mike Heuerman, they were chasing a tight end unlike any other on their roster. Undersized but highly-touted, Heuerman didn’t look like Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert or Ben Koyack, but he certainly came with a similar recruiting pedigree.

    Irish A-to-Z continues.