Nov. 2, 2012
The running back position is one that requires a personal touch. To be successful out of the backfield, a player must possess more than just an explosive set of legs. It requires quick thinking, style and creativity. And if there is one thing that Notre Dame running back Theo Riddick knows, it is how to be creative. The senior is quick with a smile, and often responsible for outbursts of laughter within the Irish locker room.
Over his four years at the University of Notre Dame, both on and off the field Riddick has shown that he is anything but one-dimensional, and consequentially chose to major in film, television, and theatre–a decision made due to his passion for interacting with others.
“My major allows me to be creative,” Riddick says. “I like to think of myself as a creative person, so I jumped at the opportunity to study in that field.”
The degree seems to suit Riddick perfectly. As his football career would indicate, he is certainly familiar with playing multiple roles. Riddick has contributed as a prominent freshman kick returner, caught touchdown passes as a slot receiver and spearheaded the Notre Dame offensive attack at the running back position. Not every player would enjoy a career that has seen as many role changes, but for Riddick, it’s just part of helping the team find success on the field.
“Overall, I wouldn’t say it has been all that tough for me,” Riddick says. “There was definitely a lot of transitioning when I moved to receiver since I had never played that position before. But I couldn’t be happier to have had that opportunity because it has increased my knowledge of how this game is played.”
When the former Immaculata High School standout arrived on campus in 2009 out of Manville, N.J., he knew that his true passion was playing in the backfield, but he wasn’t exactly sure what his role would be with the team. One area of the game in which Riddick excelled outside of the running back position was in returning kickoffs.
“Returning kicks was something I really enjoyed doing in high school,” Riddick says. “I am just so thankful that coach (Charlie) Weis gave me the opportunity to contribute right away. I know that opportunity has helped propel my career to where it is today.”
And to say that Riddick simply contributed as a freshman kick returner is putting it lightly. He broke the Notre Dame record for kick return yards in a single season in `09. Riddick’s total of 849 kickoff return yards surpassed the previous mark held by former Irish running back Armando Allen Jr., something that surprised Riddick.
“Really?” he says. “That is pretty cool. I didn’t know that. All I know is that I am so very blessed to have been given the opportunity to play this game at a place like this.”
It is no surprise that Riddick wasn’t aware of the record he set as a freshman. Of all the factors that drive him to compete, personal statistical achievements are a relatively unimportant one.
“I personally do not care if I run for 100 yards, or score any touchdowns,” Riddick says. “Winning is all that matters. As long as the Irish are winning, I’m happy.”
Riddick and his teammates certainly have some things to be happy about, including two bowl appearances, one being an impressive win over the University of Miami to cap off the 2010 campaign. With the team playing as well as it has been to start his senior season, Riddick attributes his own success to all the people that have helped him along the way.
“There are people here from all over the world,” Riddick says. “Notre Dame has allowed me to interact with so many people that I otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to. That has played a huge role in making me the student-athlete that I am today.”
Among those that Riddick has been able to share stories with are some of the most talented football players in the country. He has been able to pick the brains of great receivers like Golden Tate and Michael Floyd, as well as running backs like Armando Allen Jr. and Jonas Gray–all of whom are currently playing in the National Football League.
“Having all of these amazing players around me has certainly forced me to bring my A-game every day,” Riddick says. “I have learned every play since I got here. I have learned that when I am not in the game, its because the players around me are just that highly skilled.”
Now in his final season at Notre Dame, Riddick finds himself back where it all started — in the Irish backfield. And he certainly is not alone in carrying the Irish running game. Along with classmate and close friend Cierre Wood, Riddick leads a unit of Notre Dame backs that is among the deepest in the country. The two seniors are quick to provide comic relief in the locker room, but both understand that they hold an important job of being role models for the younger backs.
“Cierre and I are like the older brothers, and the other guys are like the younger brothers,” Riddick says. “We always have open ears when it comes to the younger guys. They always have questions. And since they have worked so hard, they deserve the best kind of answers from us older guys.”
One younger brother that Riddick has had a particular impact on is sophomore running back George Atkinson III. Atkinson’s career has already shown similarities to his role model, Riddick. The sophomore played a big role returning kickoffs for the Irish as a freshman, and would like to think that his career is headed in the same direction.
“Theo is more of a hybrid back,” Atkinson says. “He knows the plays better than anybody, since he has experience at multiple positions. I would love to become more dynamic like Theo is now.”
The younger running backs realize how blessed they are to have a player like Riddick to learn from. According to Atkinson III, Riddick understands the offense so well, it is like having another coach on the field. Riddick, in turn, realizes when his football career comes to an end he will be leaving the workload in very capable hands.
“He hasn’t even come close to reaching his full potential yet,” Riddick says of Atkinson III. “There are so many great things to come from him. Everyone should be very excited.”
It is hard to imagine the excitement level around South Bend growing any larger than it has been so far in 2012. The Irish have gotten off to their best start since 2002, including a host of impressive wins over several ranked opponents.
The road began in unfamiliar territory when Notre Dame boarded a plane and crossed the Atlantic back in September to take on Navy in a season opener staged in Dublin, Ireland. For Riddick, it was a stunning venture.
“It was an incredible experience,” Riddick says. “It was amazing to see all of our great fans travel all that distance to see us play. And all the success that we had really got us rolling early on.”
And the sizzling Irish start on that day was spearheaded by a phenomenal performance by Riddick, who totaled 107 yards on the ground and scored two touchdowns. The Irish rushing attack has continued to blossom and display its potential from week to week. In the Shamrock Series game against Miami at Soldier Field in Chicago, the Irish had four different running backs, including sophomore Cam McDaniel, who rushed for a touchdown.
“It was phenomenal being able to look around our locker room and see the smiles on everyone’s faces,” Riddick says. “I love being able to share all the good feelings with these guys.”
There have been plenty of good feelings to go around, but Riddick will be the first to tell you that the team’s mindset hasn’t changed since day one.
“To see all of this success is definitely great,” Riddick says. “But it is important that we don’t let it get to our heads. Success can be great, but it can also be your downfall if you don’t handle it properly.”
If the Irish continue their recent run of success, it is a good bet to say that Theo Riddick will play a central role in it. With the kind of career he has had, win or lose, Riddick will always have a reason to keep on smiling.