December 23, 2010 7:36:00 AM
SULLIGENT, Ala. -- When the 2009 football season started in August, Sulligent High School senior running back Ishmael Riggins had a problem.
Instead of trying to run around the defenders who wanted to tackle him, he tried to run over them.
His behavior wasn''t unusual for someone who had played on the offensive and defensive lines the previous season. So when he received the chance to run, he took it.
Riggins rushed for 1,668 yards -- an average of 128 yards per game -- earning the distinction as The Dispatch''s West Alabama All-Area Football Team''s Offensive Football Player of the Year.
In the past year, 6-foot-2, 230-pound Riggins transferred the aggressiveness he used as a lineman into becoming a standout running back. That mind-set helped him pile up 11 100-plus-yard games, including three games of more than 200 yards.
The secret? Run like a lineman.
"This go-get-it attitude, you''ve gotta want it," Riggins said. "Whatever my line gave me, I took it. Whatever the defense gave me, I took it.
"I''m a real competitive person. When somebody tries to tackle me, I try to run them over. Last year, I was like that every game. That was what I had to do for us to win; I had to run hard every play, I had to give 100 percent every play."
Riggins rushed for 186 yards against Smithville in his first appearance in the backfield in 2010. His performance included a touchdown and a 65-yard run. Sulligent won 26-18, but the game was classified as a preseason game because the prep football season in the state of Alabama hadn''t started.
When Sulligent''s season kicked off the following week, Hamilton defeated Sulligent 43-0 and Riggins managed only 24 rushing yards.
The slowdown didn''t last long.
Riggins rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown against Hatton, 206 yards and three scores against Lexington, 225 yards and two touchdowns against Colbert Heights, and 191 yards and four scores against Marion County.
Riggins gained only 43 yards in a 14-0 loss to Lamar County and 20 yards in a 13-7 victory against Red Bay, but he found his rhythm in his last six games. His breakout game came in a 40-19 victory against Westminster Christian in the second round of the playoffs when he rushed for 224 yards, including a 55-yard run, and four touchdowns.
Riggins had 25 carries for 156 yards and a touchdown in a season-ending 43-23 loss to Lineville in the third round of the playoffs.
Riggins praised his teammates on the line for opening the holes and helping him and the team have a successful season.
"I''m going to miss (my teammates)," said Riggins, who is a forward on the school''s boys basketball team. "That was the team I grew up with. With Pee Wee and Mighty Mites, it''s just hard to let that go. When it all comes to an end in one game, nobody likes that.
"One of the coaches said something in his speech about ''moving on to the next level.'' That''s what I''m planning on doing," Riggins said.
Riggins said he and linebacker Tony Johnson are talking to coaches at Mississippi State.
"Like head coach (Ronnie) Hubbert said, we''re getting calls every day," Riggins said. "We''re just trying to evaluate our options and see what''s good for our academic careers as well as our playing careers. God willing I''ll be able to play at Mississippi State or wherever he wants me to go next year."
Riggins said he will never forget the closeness of the 2010 Blue Devils, which went through injuries and off-field troubles and stayed together and became more than a team.
"That''s an unbreakable bond," Riggins said. "You go practice with these guys every day. When we say, ''Family'' at the end of every practice and pray together, we see each other as brothers. ... We''re here for each other."
1. Southern Mississippi beats MSU in Pearl COLLEGE SPORTS
2. Blair has unique perspective on MSU-Washington matchup COLLEGE SPORTS
3. Mississippi players help MSU grow softball in state COLLEGE SPORTS
4. Energized Bulldogs push on to Sweet 16 LOCAL COLUMNS
5. Tight ends could play bigger role for Mullen's Bulldogs COLLEGE SPORTS