Diggs, Western Illinois secondary moving beyond last year's struggles

Diggs, Western Illinois secondary moving beyond last year's struggles
Aaron Diggs had his first interception of the season last week against Illinois State. (Photo courtesy of GoLeathernecks.com)

Aaron Diggs was born in Florida, spent time during his youth in Illinois and Wisconsin and attended high school in Arizona.

Diggs, a senior defensive back at Western Illinois, had another sport to thank for his family’s travels.

Aaron Diggs

Aaron Diggs

Aaron’s father, Tony Diggs, played minor league baseball in the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals organizations. After retiring the year Aaron was born – “I was the golden child,” Aaron jokes – Tony Diggs has worked as a minor-league baseball coach, manager and player development specialist. He currently works in the Brewers organization.

“About every two years, we’d move to a new place,” Aaron Diggs said of he and his six siblings. “It’s been an awesome experience.”

Parts of Diggs’ childhood were spent in East Peoria and Beloit, Wis.

The past two years, injuries have kept Diggs moving in and out of the WIU lineup.

A concussion in the season opener last fall at Eastern Illinois caused him to miss multiple games. When he returned, a broken left leg sideline him for the rest of the season. While he sat, Diggs watched the defensive backfield finish as one of the bottom 10 pass defenses in FCS.

“It’s always difficult to watch your team struggle, especially when you know you could be out there helping them,” he said. “That motivated us more this year.”

Diggs will start his fifth game of the season at free safety Saturday against Indiana State as part of an improved secondary that has 14 interceptions, which leads the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

The Leathernecks will attempt to win their school record sixth road game of the season in Terre Haute, Ind., against winless Indiana State.

“This is the most depth I think we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Diggs said.

Senior David Griffith has started every game at strong safety, while junior Xavier Rowe and graduate transfer Tyrin Holloway have been mainstays at the cornerback spots. Junior Justin Fitzpatrick has started five times at free safety, while sophomore Mike Viti has been a key reserve.

Diggs, who also has battled nagging injuries this year, was at full speed last weekend in the Leathernecks’ 31-14 win against Illinois State. He enjoyed his best game of the season against the Redbirds, collecting a season-high eight tackles and grabbing his first interception of the season.

“It’s been a blast this year,” Diggs said. “We’ve done a lot better job communicating (in the secondary). That was a big stress point for us. We just rolled with it last year.”

That led to missed assignments and numerous miscommunications.

When new defensive coordinator Tony Grantham arrived in the offseason, Diggs said members of the secondary dove into the playbook with ferocity.

“We would have study sessions with each other,” he said. “Somebody was always there to help you out if you had questions.”

The game

Western Illinois (6-3 overall, 3-3 MVFC) at Indiana State (0-9, 0-6), noon Saturday, Nov. 11 at Terre Haute, Ind. (Game airs on ESPN3.com and www.WRMSFM.com)

Three key matchups

  1. QB Sean McGuire vs. ISU secondary: McGuire, a two-year starter, faces a defense that ranks 122nd out of 123 FCS teams in passing yards allowed per game (306.6).The Sycamores have allowed 29 passing TDs, the most in FCS.
  2. WIU WR Jaelon Acklin vs. WIU record book: Acklin, a standout senior receiver, needs 89 yards to surpass Lance Lenoir’s single-season school record for receiving yardage. Acklin currently has 1,096 yards. He ranks third in the nation at 121.8 yards a game.
  3. RB LeMonte Booker vs. WIU run defense: Booker has been a bright spot for ISU’s offense. He is the second-leading rusher in the MVFC at 87.9 yards a game and should be a focal point for the WIU defense.

Key stat

Junior cornerback Xavier Rowe will make his 30th career start today for WIU, making him one of six Leathernecks with at least 30 starts. Senior offensive tackle James Torgerson is the team leader with 39 career starts, all of which are consecutive.

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