MORGANTOWN-Sophomore linebacker Doug Riggs understands that he will have some big shoes to fill when West Virginia University opens its 2011 season against instate rival Marshall in the Friends of Coal Bowl on Sunday, Sept. 4.
But, the New Jersey-native won't let that stop him as he prepares to keep his name atop the depth chart at Sam linebacker when the Mountaineers open summer camp in early August.
"I'm very confident," explained the 228-pounder. "I have seen a lot of things since I've been here. I've traveled to every single game and I've seen how big the guys are that I am going to have to go against."
Riggs is one of two new faces defensive coordinator-and linebackers coach-Jeff Casteel has inserted into WVU's unique 3-3-5 stack alignment. Senior Najee Goode, who ranked third on the team in tackles for loss (8.5), is the lone returning starter.
"Last year, I was put in a spot where I could have potentially played, but there were a lot of seniors in front of me," said Riggs. "I had to learn to pick up things quickly because coach wasn't going to wait on me to pick things up and that really pushed me."
Something the Bergen Catholic High School graduate hopes will translate into more playing time in 2011.
Riggs did see action in all 13 games for the old gold and blue in 2010, coming away with 14 tackles, including eight unassisted and one tackle for loss. A Rivals.com Top 35 in New Jersey, the 6-foot, 1-inch player was named to the 2009 Star-Ledger first-team defense.
Making Riggs' rise following the end of spring drills was the loss of sophomore-to-be linebacker Branko Busick, who was dismissed from the team following a series of incidents involving charges of armed robbery as well as battery.
"It (the loss of Busick) is a real blow," explained Riggs. "We don't have that many people returning that have experience and Branko was a guy who was around here for three years and pretty well knew the system."
Gone are Anthony Leonard, who signed a free agent contract with the New England Patriots, as well as Pat Lazear and J. T. Thomas-a sixth round pick by the Chicago Bears. In all Casteel and his staff will have to replace seven starters from a prevent unit that led the Big East in scoring defense (13.5 ppg), rushing defense (86.5 ypg) and total defense (261.1 ypg).
"We understand that it won't be easy, but we also feel like we have the players returning that can step in and get the job done."
One of those is senior end Bruce Irvin, who led the conference in sacks with 14, and another is junior college transfer Josh Francis.
"He (Francis) is a lot like Bruce in that they both possess freakish athleticism," said Riggs. "There are times when Josh made a play this spring when coach (Casteel) would look at us and say he couldn't teach us that."
WVU will also have the services of Notre Dame transfer Steve Paskorz as well as returning lettermen Tyler Anderson, Donovan Miles, Jewone Snow and Casey Vance at the linebacker slots.
"Depth could be a problem, but we have a couple of freshmen coming in that could make an impact if they can learn enough of the system," added Riggs.
But the questions still linger about this year's unit being able to post the kind of numbers its predecessors did a year ago.