October is a month filled with change for defensive back Greg Liggs Jr., a change that came in the form of inflicting fear in opposing offenses. Liggs Jr. recorded seven interceptions in three games this past month. This feat instantly propelled Liggs Jr. to the top of the conference interception list. His career mark is now at 14 interceptions — an Elon Division I record.
The large number of interceptions may have come as a surprise to some, but not to Liggs Jr. He said he had visualized this success even before the season started.
“It was funny, [I decided] I’ll begin to write in a journal, my goals in everything,” Liggs Jr. said. “I went back and looked. And I was looking at what my season goals were, and it actually was seven interceptions. So, I’m looking to exceed those expectations.”
In this stretch, Liggs Jr. intercepted three passes in two consecutive games, one against the University of New Hampshire and the other against the University of Rhode Island. According to Liggs Jr., the key to his recent success was a mix of seizing opportunities and being properly prepared.
“[My teammates] joke with me saying sometimes I am either paying the quarterback or they’re getting thrown right to me,” Liggs Jr. said. He credits great defensive play for putting him in the right spot.
“When the play presents itself, you just gotta make it. Preparation meets opportunity,” Liggs Jr. said.
The senior from Greensboro did not see much action prior to his explosive month. Liggs Jr.’s absence was felt by the Phoenix. Freshman defensive coordinator Billy Crocker’s unit gave up an average of 33.2 points per game. At the end of September, the defense suffered its biggest losses of the year to Wake Forest University 49-7 and James Madison University 45-10.
“The beginning of the season as a whole started off a little slow. We need to find our rhythm as a defense,” Liggs Jr. said.
In the first game of October, Liggs Jr. picked off University of New Hampshire freshman quarterback Max Brosmer three times. His first interception came on only the second play and set the corner’s mindset for the rest of the game.
“It’s one of those things, especially early in the game. When things go your way, it kind of sets you up to play comfortable for the rest of the game,” Liggs Jr. said.
Liggs Jr. said the first interception helped him pick up on little details from the offense. The next two picks came when Liggs Jr. jumped the routes of the Wildcat receivers. He even ripped the ball out of the hands of tight end Justin Malone-Woods. Despite the efforts of the defense, the Phoenix lost the game 26-10.
The following week, Liggs Jr. experienced similar success against University of Delaware. Late in the third quarter, Liggs Jr. snagged an overthrown pass on the left hashmark and ran it 42 yards up the sideline for his first pick six of the season.
In the final matchup of the month, Liggs Jr. turned in his second hat trick — which means three similar consecutive successes — in two weeks when the Phoenix traveled to the University of Rhode Island. These three picks were coupled with a fumble recovery by sophomore defensive back Shamari Wingard. The defensive dominance led to a 38-13 win over the University of Rhode Island.
Besides receiving Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Week honors on Oct. 28, Liggs Jr. also received honors within the locker room.
The concept of rewarding defensive players for turnovers was popularized by the University of Miami with its turnover chain. Hurricane players that forced a turnover would come to the sideline, be presented with a gold chain and have their photo taken.
Head Coach Tony Trisciani, a former defensive coordinator, brought this idea to Elon ahead of the season. Forced turnovers resulted in players coming to the sideline for a picture. This picture is then displayed proudly in the locker room. With seven interceptions and a forced fumble on the season, Liggs Jr. is no stranger to the wall.
“[The team] has been joking a lot saying [it] is my wall now because I have a lot of pictures up there,” Liggs Jr. said.
According to Liggs Jr., the wall gives the team an incentive to force turnovers, which has contributed to helping the defense establish an identity this season. Defensive players are now getting excited to see who will get the next turnover and be featured on “the wall.”
Liggs Jr. said he is pleased to see how young members of the defense have bought into this culture and revel in its collective success.
“Everybody’s buying into the culture, the success of their teammates,” Liggs Jr. said. “When it’s not me, I’m just as happy as when I catch [an] interception [or] when somebody gets a fumble recovery. So, I think that spreads around the whole team.”
In his last year in maroon and gold, Liggs Jr. has set personal, team and program records. With two games remaining in his career, he is now looking forward to seeing the progression of his teammates and the strengthening of the program.
“It feels good that it’s starting to come together. I’m excited about this last go-round these last three games. [I’m] looking forward to taking one day at a time,” Liggs Jr. said.