Rigg, Barber stepping up as leaders on defense
Published: Monday, August 20, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 20, 2012 01:08
In the last 10 years, the West Virginia football program has regularly seen leaders emerge at the linebacker spot. Since 2002, the Mountaineers have had seven linebackers become team captains.
From Grant Wiley to Reed Williams, these marquee linebackers have become the face of the WVU defense.
This season is no different. While they won’t be captains, junior Doug Rigg and sophomore Jared Barber look to lead a young Mountaineer defense in 2012.
With the transition from the 3-3-5 stack to the 3-4, it is vital that Barber and Rigg at the SAM understand the intricacies of the scheme, considering they will be in the middle of it all.
"The last two seasons, I was really quiet with Najee (Goode) and J.T. (Thomas) here. They were more of the vocal guys to get people going," Rigg said. "Now it is my job to get the linebackers going, because a lot of them are young."
Rigg has the most experience, playing in 24 career games. He had 30 tackles, four tackles for loss and one sack in 2011. He also had arguably the biggest play of season when he stripped the ball from Clemson’s Andre Ellington and enabled Darwin Cook’s 99-yard fumble return in the 2012 Orange Bowl.
Rigg knows he has the right to lead, and he’s earned it with what he has done since he arrived on campus.
"You don’t have to be the vocal guy, but you can pick someone up quietly – you don’t have to yell and shout, but do the right thing; do the drill right. When you’re in for a rep, do the rep hard. You have to get excited for defense," Rigg said.
Another of Rigg’s abilities is the way he thinks on his feet. He’s one of the smartest players on and off the field. Having made the Big East Academic Honor Roll and the Garrett Ford Academic Honor Roll, Rigg has helped make the transition easier by picking up the new scheme quickly.
West Virginia linebackers coach Keith Patterson believes in order to lead, a player has to have the mental capacity to read and recognize things quickly.
"He has to come out with a focus; he has to put in the time mentally studying film, knowing assignment and knowing what to do," Patterson said.
While Rigg has established consistency and that reputation, Barber – who will line up next to Rigg – could serve as a leader to the younger players on the defense. Barber is only a year removed from having been in their shoes as a wide-eyed freshman.
Obviously, Barber did something right when he arrived on campus. He went from contributing on special teams early in the season to a spot player during the middle to a starter at the end of the season. Now, as a sophomore, Barber has reached one of his goals of being a starter going into the season.
"Ever since last year, I wanted to come in and start like every other freshman does, but I knew realistically, redshirting or just playing special teams was an option," Barber said. "Back then, I always told myself that if I’m going to play college football, I want to be a main contributor or starter my sophomore year."
Barber serves as the ultimate leader by example. He is certainly someone his teammates can look at and know he’s doing the right thing, because he’s had success in a short period of time. In his freshman season alone, he compiled 23 tackles and two tackles for loss, and in only his third career game was named WVU special teams champion against Maryland.
"I don’t think it has to be a specific thing; it can be a number of things," Barber said about leadership. "Some guys are good at being vocal and speaking out, some guys you just look at and say ‘they’re doing the right thing, so I should do that as well.’"
Finding guys with leadership qualities isn’t hard. West Virginia has two guys (Rigg and Barber) ready to rise as leaders at linebacker. They are both players who can serve as the face of the defense for the next couple of years, and the reason they will is because they are both impact-type players.
"The bottom line is you have to be a playmaker on that field for people really to follow you," Patterson said.