JACKSONVILLE — This is the Ron Wiggins we've been anticipating.
This is the Ron Wiggins we remember from Jacksonville High School, when he ran and ran and ran so much that he lifted his team into a state championship game.
Now in his third season at Jacksonville State, he has played some at times and remained on the sideline at others. On Saturday, with starting running back Anwar Lewis out, Wiggins moved up to second team behind Matt LaRoche.
That gave him a chance to play more, and he burned Eastern Kentucky for a career-high 139 rushing yards in Jacksonville State's 42-17 win. He did it on only 13 carries, as he kept finding gaps in the defense for big gains. Six of his carries went for at least 12 yards.
His long for the day was 29 yards, and EKU should consider it an accomplishment that he didn't get 200 yards for the day. More than once, he got "shoelaced," as Wiggins put it. For example, when JSU had the ball at the EKU 16, Wiggins got the ball and rolled left, but he got stopped at the 1 when a defender grabbed his foot and didn't let go.
At times, we've seen Wiggins do this before.
A year ago, his playing time was inconsistent, but against North Alabama, he broke one for 38 yards. He had a 20-yarder the following week against Tennessee-Martin.
Late in the year, he got more time on the field and had 98 yards against Lamar, which was his career high at the time. He did it on only eight carries, including an 18-yarder for his first collegiate touchdown and a 55-yarder for another touchdown.
This year, he had an 83-yard touchdown against Murray State, but he's kind of languished at times behind Lewis and LaRoche.
Head coach Rich Rodriguez counts himself as a big Wiggins fan. He said Wiggins hasn't done anything wrong.
Instead, Lewis and LaRoche are older and have picked up Rich Rod's high-tempo offense faster than Wiggins. While Wiggins is averaging a whopping 8.7 yards a carry, Lewis and LaRoche have earned their playing time, too.
With guys like that running behind a stout JSU offensive line, the Gamecocks rank sixth in the nation with 238 rushing yards a game. They piled up 341 against Eastern Kentucky, even with Lewis on the sideline.
Rodriguez said he's looking forward to more big days from Wiggins.
Perhaps timing has slowed Wiggins’ progress. He arrived in the fall of 2020, but that was during the pandemic. Spring practice was cut short and so was the fall schedule. A bit underweight, Wiggins didn't play that season.
And, with JSU and the Ohio Valley Conference playing its league schedule in the spring of 2021, Wiggins and other newcomers missed out on spring practice that year, too.
This past spring was his first chance to go through a college spring practice. It's clear he benefited. Also, he benefited from a productive off-season, gaining about 10 pounds in muscle.
If you know Wiggins — and he has a lot of friends in Jacksonville — you may notice that his shoulders are broader and he's more cut than he was in high school.
Even with the added muscle and weight, that speed hasn't gone anywhere. And it's not just sprinter's speed — he's got that elusive, make-you-miss speed that makes life extra hard on defenders.
Two of the JSU defensive leaders, safety Jeremiah Harris and linebacker Stevonte Tullis are big fans of Wiggins. They said they knew him when he was at Jacksonville and would come to campus to work with Gamecocks’ players.
They seem to genuinely like and appreciate him. And they know all about his speed.
Harris said that not long after Wiggins joined the JSU team, he got the ball and was rolling outside. Harris was there to keep him contained.
Except, he didn't.
Wiggins bounced outside, and Harris found himself running behind, hopelessly trying to catch up.
"I about fell on my face running after him," Harris said after Saturday's win, drawing laughs from his teammates.
Saturday was his first 100-yard game since Jacksonville High. It won't be his last, by far.