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  • Channeling inspiration

  • Austin Riggs remembers looking up to the sky and thinking: “Let’s do this.”

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  • Austin Riggs remembers looking up to the sky and thinking: “Let’s do this.”
    His mother, Melanie, passed away when he was in eighth grade. His uncle, Tommy Riggs, died after his freshman year of high school.
    And now, just before the final athletics event of his high school career, Austin thought of them and was inspired.
    The end result?
    State championships in three different track and field events, and all in one afternoon.
    ‘Tremendous’ talent
    St. Mary’s Colgan head football coach Chuck Smith says Riggs is the most gifted athlete he’s had at Colgan in the 30 years he’s been with the school.
    “He just has that tremendous speed, and he’s a tremendous jumper, too. Gosh, I’ve seen him vertically jump,” Smith said. “He has tremendous physical talents, as much as any kid I’ve ever been around.”
    But Riggs almost didn’t end up a Panther. His family lived in Chetopa and didn’t move to Pittsburg until his seventh-grade year of school.
    “It’s been the best decision we’ve made as a family,” he said.
    In high school, Riggs developed into a football and track star.
    “I kind of like to say that I’m a late bloomer,” he said. “I wasn’t too good my freshman and sophomore years.”
    He was plagued by injuries, though. Riggs pulled a hip flexor his sophomore year at the regional track meet and missed out on a state appearance. A year later he won the 100-, 200- and 400-meter events at the regional meet, then suffered a foot injury right before the state championship.
    This year, however, he made up for lost time.
    Riggs took titles in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes in Class 2A.
    “I had never won state in anything,” he said. “This is my only thing. The fact that I did it individually, it’s an awesome feeling. It’s amazing.”
    A family connection
    Now Riggs turns his attention to a football career at Pittsburg State University. He signed on with Tim Beck and the Gorillas to play tailback and is eager to continue a family tradition at the school.
    “We’re excited to have him as a Gorilla,” Beck said. “I know that one thing we’re trying to do is improve our team speed, and he’s definitely going to help that when he walks on campus.
    Football — and Pittsburg State — have always been in Riggs’ blood. His father, Mitch, coached at Chetopa while Austin was in grade school. His uncle, Kendall Gammon, graduated from the university and went on to play football for the Pittsburg Steelers, New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs, even earning an appearance in the Pro Bowl in 2005. He returned to the area two years ago and began working as a major gifts officer for PSU’s athletics department. Both of Riggs’ parents went to school there, along with his brother, Tyler. His uncle, Tommy, graduated from Pittsburg State in 1998 and went on to work as an associate athletic director before his passing. The school holds an annual golf tournament in his memory.
    Page 2 of 2 - “If any other team would have offered me anything — I’ve always wanted to go to Pitt, and I think that’s been my decision since I was little,” Riggs said.
    “Ever since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to play football at Pitt State and be a running back,” he later added. “The fact I’m actually signed and I know I’m going to play is just one of the best feelings, because I’ve wanted to do it since I was little.”
    Football career
    Though he played strong safety in addition to running back at Colgan, Riggs has his heart set on the offensive side of the ball in college.
    “My older brother has been a running back ever since I can remember, and I look up to him a lot,” he said.
    Smith said Riggs has the talent and physical tools, to play all over the field.
    “They recruited him as a running back,” Smith said. “I told somebody just today that, boy, he’d be a really fine receiver. Gosh, he’d be a great outside linebacker because of his speed and his strength. With his abilities, I just think there are a lot of different things he can do. It’ll be interesting because physically he has the tools, so hopefully he can stay healthy and be able to use all these talents that he does have.”
    Smith described Riggs as low-key and fairly quiet, but a “polite, good person.”
    “He’s a hard worker,” Smith said. “He’d go to the ‘Y’ every night and do extra lifitng, and if you look at him, he looks like it. He’s got great talent.”
    Riggs himself says he now wants to prove himself at the college level.
    “I’ve been working really hard for this and I don’t want to be cocky or anything but I definitely did go out there and prove something, that I can do it,” he said.
    One thing is certain: Wherever Riggs goes and whatever he does, he will be driven by the memory of his mother and uncle.
    He says he doesn’t “really talk about this much” when referring to what inspires and motivates him.
    “Behind a lot of athletes, like in the NFL or NBA, it seems like there’s always some story behind it, something that pushes them,” he said. “I would have to say definitely my mom passing, and my uncle Tommy passing. I don’t know what it is, but something pushes me, something deep down inside that helps me get through stuff and pushes me, I think, more than other people.”

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