Rigg looks to keep pace from last season
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Doug Rigg already has suffered a break that robbed him of two games last football season. He has no interest in complicating next season with a rip.
The West Virginia junior, from Oradell, N.J., played the best game of his career last September in a loss ato LSU, but he went most of the way with a broken bone in his left wrist.
When he returned, he wore a protective cast as an active outside linebacker and then played the best football of his career over the final four games.
Rigg was the key to two of the biggest plays of WVU's season.
He is healed now and the only sign of injury is a scar where the surgeon cut him open to insert a screw. Yet given how well he played at a significant physical disadvantage last season, and that he could perhaps use the good fortune of familiarity as he learns one of the two middle positions in a new 3-4 alignment, perhaps Rigg might bring back the cast?
Might he be WVU's Rip Hamilton, the NBA star who has worn a facemask since breaking his nose twice in the 2003-04 season?
"I love it off and I'm keeping it off," he said. "It's so much better and so much easier to go through it with two functional hands without the pain I had last year."
After the loss to the Tigers, Rigg had surgery that sat him down for three weeks and kept him from playing in wins against Bowling Green and Connecticut. He returned in time to play in reserve in a loss at Syracuse.
Rigg wore the brace the rest of the way and started three of the final four games while playing at a pretty high level given the circumstances.
"I was playing linebacker with one arm for a good amount of it," he said. "I was using my left, but not like I needed to. I didn't want to injure it more than it was."
Still, he had 16 of his 30 tackles and his only sack with one arm. When the Mountaineers absolutely needed something to happen on defense, Rigg was the one to do it.
It began in the final game of the regular season against South Florida and when it seemed the Bulls were about to put the game and the BCS bid out of WVU's reach. Quarterback B.J. Daniels tried to run and WVU's Najee Goode threw his arm out and knocked the ball to the turf.
No matter how bad his arm hurt, Rigg's eyes worked great.
"I saw it pop out and I wanted the ball so bad because of the situation we were in and I knew we needed that turnover," Rigg said. "Najee got it out and I jumped on it."
He went hands first into a crowd of people, which had to hurt. There were times he'd bang his wrist on an opponent and flinch because the pain shooting up his arm stung so much. There was the constant struggle to get off blocks because that required two hands and aggravating torque and pressure that just never felt right.
There was that game against Rutgers, that brutally cold and snowy day in Piscataway, N.J., when Rigg had his first extended action after surgery and his first excruciating moments dealing with the injury.
"That was the worst," he said. "It was terrible because it was so cold and there was so much snow. I couldn't feel my fingers at all."
His teammates admired Rigg's quick recovery and his will to shrug off the agony to play in the games. His coach, of course, wasn't always as forgiving. That was the nature of the relationship Jeff Casteel, the former defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, had with his players.
"He was understanding for some of it, like, 'I know it's bad, but you still need to get things done,'" Rigg said. "And there were some times he wouldn't care and he'd just yell. But I think the whole time he understood my wrist was hurting."
So there was the ball and pretty much the fate of the season on the ground at Raymond James Stadium and there was Rigg diving in, covering the ball and cradling it to his chest with his right arm as everyone else battled. That included defensive end Will Clarke.
"I remember him on the top of the pile yelling, 'I love you, Doug,'" Rigg said. "That's what kept me going."
The Mountaineers got the ball and eventually the win that pushed them into the Orange Bowl, where their backs were once again pushed up against the wall. Clemson had the ball on WVU's goal line in the second quarter and was a few feet away from a 24-21 lead.
The ball went to Tigers running back Andre Ellington and Rigg's eyes once again went to the ball.
"I saw he was going down, but there were people in his way and there was a pile," Rigg said. "I started ripping away at the ball - and the good thing was I had new gloves, so I had a really good grip on the ball."
He plucked it loose with his right end and was one of many who chased safety Darwin Cooke 99 yards for a touchdown and the game's decisive play.
Now the new defensive staff wants to see what Rigg can do with two good hands in a new position. Rigg, a defensive end and outside linebacker in high school at Bergen Catholic, hasn't played in the middle since his junior football days.
His wrist repaired, Rigg feels armed for success because his eyes have never failed him.
"I'm able to see things a lot easier and I get to play a little slower," he said. "I'm using my instincts and my attitude and I just see the ball better than last year.
"I've always been able to see the ball for some reason - and not because I was coached that way. I just think I always find the ball and I feel like I'm back where I began playing football."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.