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August 30, 2012

Riddick ready to ride again

The mere thought gives him a child-like, starry-eyed look.

Theo Riddick remembers what it was like 'back in the day' as an eight-year-old running back in New Jersey, slicing through defenses unprepared for what he had to offer.

"Ah, the good old days, the good old days," smiled Riddick Tuesday. "I had some crazy games back in the day…Now you've got me really missing it!"

Absence makes the heart grow fonder…and the legs move faster. Come Saturday at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Theo Riddick - running back, pass-catcher, hybrid -- will ride again.

"I'm excited to showcase my talents this Saturday," said Riddick, who will be in the starting lineup against Navy, due in part to the absence of suspended classmate Cierre Wood.

"I came here as a running back, so it's always been my love. I kind of think I have it all. I can run between the tackles, I can run outside…"

To be sure, Riddick's days of catching passes are far from over. The move from the Z receiver position back to halfback coincides with the coaching staff's shift in assignments. Tony Alford, who like Riddick was in the backfield upon his arrival to Notre Dame and then shifted to receivers coach, is working with the running backs, who also must show the versatility to work as a slot receiver.

"He's back home, if you will," said Alford of Riddick. "It's been great because he knows how to run routes. He understands the concepts of what we're doing. Henceforth, we can put him in all kinds of different places. He is a really, really dynamic football player, in my opinion."

The move to the Z position was more difficult than the raw statistics might indicate. Riddick caught 78 passes with six touchdowns in 18 games as a receiver before returning to running back late in the '11 season.

"There were a lot of things," said Riddick, speaking to the difficulty of moving away from the position where he gained 4,042 yards and scored 52 touchdowns during his prep days at Immaculata High School in Somerville, N.J.

"I was rusty playing wide receiver. That was a huge transition in terms of leverage and breaking at a certain point. There were a lot of things I had to learn."

But learn them he did, despite the fact he knew running back was his best position.

"He bought into being a receiver when that's probably not really what he wanted to do when Coach Kelly first got here," Alford said. "That goes back to his dedication and going back to enhance his whole game."

Riddick said he was pure company man when it came to making the transition to receiver.

"Coach Alford called me when I was back home," said Riddick of the first time the subject was broached following the 2009 season. "But regardless of how I felt, I'm more of a player who will do anything to help this team. They said it was going to benefit this team and I believed them."

They also told him moving back to running back would benefit the team late last year when Jonas Gray went down with a season-ending knee injury. He carried eight times for a modest 36 yards with two receptions in the bowl loss to Florida State. But it was clear to all who saw Riddick back at his original position that there was a comfort zone in the offensive backfield.

"(He has) the ability to lend both his natural instincts as a running back with his acquired wide receiver play over the last couple of years," said Brian Kelly of Riddick. "I know now that when he takes the field, he's capable of doing a lot of things. That's a confidence that he has going into the game that he's going to touch the ball in a number of different ways."

Riddick won't have his tag-team partner - Wood - for the first two games of the 2012 season. His goal against Navy and Purdue in Wood's absence is crystal clear.

"(Wood) said the same thing I said: we've got to be 2-0," Riddick said. "This is my senior year and I want to win every game. To start out 1-0 unlike we did last year would be a big accomplishment and get us heading in the right direction."

Riddick is ready to put his vast array of talents to good use.

"I'm very comfortable now," Riddick said. "I'm not saying I wasn't comfortable at wide receiver, but it was still a transition. Now, I have the chance to settle down in a position that I came here to play, and being a hybrid, you get reverses, passes…it's a whole new ball game.

"I've been playing running back since I was a little kid. To have the chance to do it on this level, which I really haven't, I'm just excited."

Almost like being an eight-year-old kid again.




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