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PREP FOOTBALL ’91 : He Sizes Up Well With Opponents : Sea View League: Diminutive guard Brian Riggs looks to run interference and help University make a run for the title.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Brian Riggs, an offensive guard on the University High School football team, is the littlest big man on campus.

At a position dominated by Harley Davidson types, Riggs, 5 feet 5 and 150 pounds, is built more like a Vespa.

That doesn’t mean he is run over on every play, only particular ones. And when he is knocked down during a play, he immediately gets up and gets in his opponent’s face. Well, maybe his chest.

Sorry, cheap shot, but Riggs is used to it.

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His mother wore a T-shirt that said, “The Dwarf, 61" during games last season. In some quarters, the game against rival Woodbridge last year was billed as “The Battle of the Smurfs,” because Woodbridge had a 5-5, 180-pound defensive lineman. However, Riggs spent most of the game blocking a 6-3, 220-pound lineman.

“They call me ‘sprinkler’ because I come out of the ground to get people sometimes,” Riggs said. “They joke around and say, ‘Are you going to bite my kneecap?’ but I just laugh.

“I’ve got 1,000 nicknames, but I don’t mind if they make fun of me because I’m short. I just turn it around and make fun of them because they are tall.”

If Riggs has made peace with comments about his size, he’s declared no armistice with the enemy. Last season as a junior, he played well enough to be voted second-team All-Sea View League by the coaches.

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“I remember the first time we watched film of University,” Woodbridge Coach Rick Gibson said. “I thought they were missing a person on the line.” But during the game, Gibson said, Riggs definitely made his presence known. He helped University gain 197 yards on the ground and the Trojans won, 35-22.

Although there is no clear-cut favorite to win the league title this season, University, with 14 starters returning, including seven who were second-team all-league selections last season, is among the teams coaches believe will challenge for the top spot.

If they do, the Trojans will have to have success with their Delaware wing-T offense, which relies on deception. Riggs is uniquely suited to play guard in this offense. The guards pull on almost every play and run interference for the running backs.

University Coach Mark Cunningham said the guards he selects for his system have always been downsized because they have to be quick and agile enough to get ahead of the running backs.

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Riggs, as you might expect, is the smallest guard he’s ever coached. But because of Riggs’ wrestling abilities--he qualified for the Southern Section championship at 140 pounds as a junior--he can handle blocking assignments against players 50 or more pounds heavier.

“If I can’t get you head-up, I’ll come and get you when you’re not looking,” Riggs said. “It’s all angles--you’re really not attacking anyone from straight ahead.”

How does a player this size find himself a position on the line in the first place?

Initially, Riggs says, it was a less-than-serious suggestion. “My freshman year I was a running back,” he said. “But we needed a guard and as a joke, kind of, I said, ‘I’ll play guard; my dad played guard.’ ”

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His father, Don Riggs, (was about 5-10 and 185 pounds when he was an offensive lineman at Lompoc High School and Linfield (Ore.) College, so it took quite a bit of imagination to see a 5-3, 126-pound freshman at the position.

Yet, Riggs learned the position on the freshman B team before moving into the A team’s starting lineup with four games left in the season. In those four games, he was impressive enough to be named special teams player of the year for the Trojans, who went 10-0.

Midway through his sophomore season, he suffered a knee injury, which required surgery and ended his season. During the off-season, however, the coaches told Riggs that if he worked hard, he could start at guard for the varsity.

Bulked up to about 145 pounds now, Riggs won the starting spot in spring practice and has started every game since. He also was the snapper on punts and field-goal and point-after attempts, which provides opponents with a tempting target. Last season, some teams would put two linemen over him during punts to see how far they could make him fly after the snap.

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As Riggs remembers, he smiles. He likes games in which he is sent flying and also gets in his shots.

Cunningham said Riggs’ play often upsets mammoth linemen whom he blocks.

“He gets into some big people and does a job on them and they don’t like it,” Cunningham said. “They pick him up and throw him away after some plays.”


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