For roughly 15 years, national college football writer Bruce Feldman has put out his “Freaks List.” In Feldman’s words, freaks have “rare physical abilities that wow even those folks who are used to observing gifted athletes every day.”
His top-listed freak last year was Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. A few years ago it was SMU defensive end (and eventual Bengals draft pick) Margus Hunt.
This year, Feldman put out a list of the Top 50 college football freaks for The Athletic and it includes Bearcats safety James Wiggins who is 33rd on the list.
Here’s what Feldman wrote about the UC sophomore:
“One of the higher-ranked recruits Cincinnati has signed in recent years, the 5-11, 205-pound one-time Miami commit from South Florida is super strong for his size. He benches 405, squats 675 and has tremendous burst, broad jumping 11-0, vertical leaping 37 inches and timing 4.40 in the 40.”
Wiggins was flattered to be included on a list of the top physical freaks in college football.
“I didn’t know that I was going to be on it until (football sports performance) Coach Brady (Collins) told me to go online and check out the freak list,” Wiggins said. “I saw my name and I was surprised. I’m really thankful for what the weight staff did for me in getting me stronger and faster.”
“He’s one of the freakiest kids I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Collins.
Wiggins says his teammates have started calling him “Freak,” but Collins prefers a different nickname.
“I like to call him ‘Mr. Smiley,’” Brady told me. “He makes my day better. When he smiles, I smile. He’s a great kid and I’m so happy and proud of him. I can’t wait to keep coaching him for the next two years.”
Wiggins redshirted in 2016 and saw limited action in 10 games last season – mostly on special teams.
“Last year I had a meniscus injury that took me out of camp,” he said. “So I came back late and was down the depth chart. But the coaches told me to keep grinding and everything would work out. I got my name out through special teams and now I’m here.”
“He’s got as much ability as pretty much any safety that I’ve been around,” said head coach Luke Fickell. “There’s still a long way to go, but he has the raw natural talent. The ability to learn the football game is where we’re still trying to grow and he hasn’t done it on a Saturday just yet. But I see great growth in him. And I don’t just mean as an athlete – he’s always been that. But his confidence in understanding and playing the game of football.”
Wiggins played wide receiver, quarterback, cornerback, safety, and outside linebacker in high school and credits safeties coach Jon Tenuta for helping him grasp the finer points of secondary play.
“It’s gotten a lot better – especially with Coach Tenuta,” Wiggins said. “He’s a smart man and he made me understand formations and how the game goes. Since I’ve been with him my football I.Q. has gotten way better.”
Wiggins and fellow sophomore Darrick Forrest have been the safeties on the first-team defense at training camp.
“They’ve taken most of the (starting) reps and I feel confident about them and their growth,” said Fickell. “We have to figure it out as we go and create some competition for who the backups will be.”
Wiggins could be a fixture in the Bearcats secondary for the next three seasons, meaning he also has three years to climb Feldman’s list of the top physical freaks in college football.
So how high could he go?
“You know what? He could easily be number one,” said Collins. “If he puts together a good year on the field and we do as well, there’s no doubt about it. He’s number one in my heart. I can’t wait to see what else freakish he can do.”
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