The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

May 14, 2014

Rigg fighting for his NFL dream

MORGANTOWN — It was Saturday afternoon, a big day in the life of Doug Rigg, even though the West Virginia University linebacker had gone through the NFL draft without hearing his name called.

That was disappointing, yes, but he’d been prepared for it, knew he was a long shot, but what did it really matter for this graduation day? His family was in town, and he was readying himself in the bathroom for graduation ceremonies for his degree in exercise physiology from the WVU School of Medicine.

He did not hear his phone ring.

“The call went to voice mail,” Rigg said early this week as things began to calm down around him. “When I came out I saw a strange area code. My agent had told me if I see a strange area code to always answer. They left a voice mail, and I was thinking, this might be it.”

The number was that of a Chicago Bears’ coach who was calling to offer him the chance to attend this weekend’s mini-camp. He wasn’t signing as a free agent, just getting a tryout, but you would have thought he’d just won the Heisman Trophy.

“Getting that call, not many people get that … plus me being from where I’m from in New Jersey, I’m probably the only one from the town I’m from that had an opportunity to make a team,” he explained. “It was a relief getting the call, having a chance to be invited to a real training camp. All I really wanted was a chance, then to graduate that same day was like icing on the cake.”

It had been a long a couple of weeks leading up to the NFL draft for the ultimate player sitting on the bubble.

“I had a lot on my plate, and it was definitely stressful,” he explained. “A lot of family members always asking me for constant updates: Who (are you) talking to? Are you going to get drafted? A lot of questions. I just had to explain if I don’t get drafted it’s not the end of the world.”

Oh, he had a lot invested in football, beginning with the idea that it brought him to West Virginia for see, Doug Rigg is a gifted student who had a chance to get a partial scholarship and go to Harvard.

“I made the right choice,” he said, when asked about it. “A Harvard degree would definitely guarantee you a job, but the people I’ve met down here, I don’t think I would have met the great people I met here. I have a lot of great friendships and great memories. I had a great time.

“A Harvard degree vs. a West Virginia degree … if West Virginia’s degree is lower than a Harvard degree, I think I will make up for it when I go for my master’s. I know I am going to succeed wherever I go.”

Giving up a chance to go for the Harvard degree to play football was only part of the investment.

There was a day at Oklahoma last year that was a second part of it, a day when he was going full out to make a tackle and collided helmet-to-helmet with teammate Karl Joseph, the hardest hitter on the team.

Rigg lay motionless on the field following the contact as a hush came over the stadium; players kneeled and prayed as they strapped him to a board.

“It wasn’t as serious as it looked. I think I could have possibly walked off the field,” he recalled. “I complained I had a little neck pain. Once I said that, they said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to board this guy up.’ I didn’t want to scare anybody, and I wasn’t afraid at the moment. They didn’t want me walking off the field and collapsing. That was the safest way.”

But there always is the unknown fear with an injury, and if the neck wasn’t broken, if he wasn’t paralyzed, there was still the thought that he might never play again. It is not a pleasant thought, yet one Rigg dealt with then and is dealing with now.

“Right now, looking at the opportunity I am going to have at this moment, I think that maybe this weekend could be my last chance to play football, but if it is the last time I play football, I will know I was with a professional team at some point. Not many people can say that.”

And as for the return on the investment he made playing football. There’s the friends and the degree and, yes, the Orange Bowl rout of Clemson during his sophomore year to look back on, that being his greatest moment.

In truth, Doug Rigg made one of biggest plays in WVU history. It was near halftime, Clemson driving for a TD that would have given the Tigers a 28-17 lead, when the ball was handed to running back Andre Ellington, who went toward the goal line.

Rigg was in his way, stripping the ball, with safety Darwin Cook grabbing the loose football from under the pile and sprinting 99 yards to a touchdown that turned around the game so spectacularly that WVU would win, 70-33.

“The Orange Bowl is my fondest, not even because of the score, not because of the strip and the fumble recovery. It was the fun we had as a team down there … being huge underdogs to Clemson, hearing how much we’re going to get beat by, then just coming out on top was probably the best feeling in the world,” he said.

“That whole week of us going there and putting in a lot of work and coming out on top was probably the best moment.”

It is the same attitude he is packing up and taking with him to the Bears mini-camp this weekend.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

 

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