(MCT) — SOUTH BEND, Ind. — There is no vivid memory or journal entry to mark the moment Notre Dame’s Theo Riddick started contemplating an NFL future, but he guesses it was when he was about 9 years old.
His favorite player was Ricky Williams, then with the Dolphins. Like Williams, Riddick played tailback. Like Williams, he wore No. 34. And that desire to emulate his idol catalyzed a hope that he simply ran with.
“I always just wanted to be there,” Riddick said. “That’s obviously a dream. But I’m not looking in the future. Any day can be your last.”
Gauging by how Riddick has performed during a return to his natural position in his final season for the BCS-ranked No. 5 Irish, it is increasingly likely he will carry on. After spending two seasons as a hiccup-quick receiver, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Riddick has caught NFL eyes by demonstrating dogged, physical running that no one but he and teammates saw coming.
In fact, Mike Mayock approached Irish assistant Tony Alford when Riddick first returned to running back in the offseason and Alford was adamant to the NBC and NFL Network analyst: Putting Riddick in the backfield put him where he belonged.
“I think he’s right,” Mayock said. “The tailback position takes advantage of what he does best, which is being dynamic with the ball in his hands. He plays a little bigger than he weighs, and he’s very quick and obviously catches the ball extremely well.
“It’s way too early to start saying what round he’s going to go in, but I would say I’ve gotten a lot of phone calls from teams saying, ‘Hey, this kid looks like a pretty good tailback, what do you think?’ He’s really sparked some interest.”
Coach Brian Kelly also said Riddick is in “the right place,” and an NFL source agreed, describing Riddick as perhaps not an upper-echelon prospect but one whose stock is rising on the strength of 451 rushing yards — including a career-best 143 against BYU last week — and many of them willingly hard-earned.
It wasn’t detrimental to demonstrate quick feet and pass-catching aptitude for two years, because the current physicality creates a complementary package.
“What the NFL looks for in a running back is not so much a guy that runs a 4.3 40 (yard dash), but a guy that is perhaps quicker than fast, that can make people miss, that has some real toughness about him and can get north and south,” Mayock said. “That’s a long way of saying, yeah, I think he’s helped himself.”
The Irish feel the biggest help was getting him back there in the first place.
“When they moved him to receiver, we were like, ‘What?’ “ tackle Zack Martin said. “ ‘He’s so good at running back.’ “
The hard-nosed totes that come with it, meanwhile, come naturally. Riddick said he doesn’t mind dropping his shoulders if he sees defenses with troubled tackling.
“The majority of the plays I’m getting right now are between the tackles,” Riddick said. “You can’t make moves in there and tippy-toe. I always had that instilled in me. I guess it’s coming out more this year than ever before.”
A tantalizing present also cast new light on his future. And a marquee game at Oklahoma on Saturday will inform just how far the Irish can go, while also determining how far a return to running back will carry Riddick.
“They see him on tape, and they know, I got to try to tackle this guy who’s going to juke me, and they’re kind of on their toes,” Martin said, “and then he lowers his pad and runs over you.”