Shaq Wiggins has never been the biggest guy on a football field.
At 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, the freshman cornerback is not the type of player to consistently overpower his opponents. He'll make his share of tackles and hits, though even he wouldn't call that his strong suit. But what he lacks size, Wiggins makes up for with his words.
He talks trash, and it works.
“I’ve been doing it ever since high school. It’s a little strict in high school; in college I’m kind of free," Wiggins said. “Me talking to the other players, I think it kind of gets to them a little bit. They really feel it when they miss passes or anything like that. I try to make them feel it.”
Wiggins keeps his motor mouth running outside of football, too — a trait with which his teammates are well-acquainted.
“Everybody knows Shaq is probably the craziest guy on the team, talks all the time. It’s just great being around his personality," safety Tray Matthews said. "Me and him been close the last couple of years, and we’re very comfortable back there together. Trying to make big things happen as freshmen.”
Even Wiggins was quick to label himself as the UGA defense's resident funny man.
“I’m kind of the guy that does stuff out of the blue, makes everybody laugh," he said. "People that’s on the staff that’re not usually around me probably look at me crazy. If somebody's down, I put a smile on their face, make somebody laugh. I kind of smooth things out a little bit.”
Of course with defensive lineman Garrison Smith already in the fold, there has been some contention as to who deserves the title of "funniest guy on defense." Wiggins naturally rejected Smith's claim to the comedic crown.
“That’s a total lie," Wiggins said. “You just look at his body. His body’s terrible. Nah, Garrison’s funny, but he’s not more funnier than me. Everybody knows.”
In any case, that penchant for getting under an opposing receiver's skin could come in handy on Saturday when the No. 25 Bulldogs (6-3, 4-2 SEC) take to the plains and face rival No. 7 Auburn (9-1, 5-1 SEC).
“It’s going to be a lot of people talking smack on the field and off the field," Wiggins said. "I kind of know pretty much everybody on the Auburn team. There’s some players that’s injured that are going to be talking stuff. It’s going to be friendly smack-talking.”
But the talk may only get Wiggins so far in the matchup considering how little the Tigers have used their passing game in recent weeks. In fact, the Auburn offense has topped 300 yards passing only once this season while the team's dangerous ground game has surpassed the 300-yard mark five times already.
Wiggins knows he'll be expected to put his head in the pile against the run, but he also hopes there will be chances for interceptions, as well.
“Hopefully we stop the run early and they put it in the air a little bit," he said. "I know last game, App State, they didn’t even look me and Josh [Harvey-Clemons'] way."
Through his six appearances as a true freshman, Wiggins has recorded 16 tackles, three pass break-ups and only one interception. The lone pick, however, turned into six points when he jumped an Austyn Carta-Samuels screen pass during Georgia's loss to Vanderbilt.
The play remains UGA's only pick-six of the season, one of just four interceptions, and it undoubtedly represents the signature play of Wiggins' rookie season.
“I would say that’s the play of the season, just because that’s my first interception, my first pick-six in my whole college career," he said. "Hopefully I have a couple more of those.”
Indeed, the play represents a positive month of progress for Wiggins, who did not initially earn the starting role at cornerback but ultimately found himself with the job by the time Georgia played Tennessee. Coaches say the former four-star recruit out of Sandy Creek High School still needs to add weight and continue developing from a technique standpoint, but many have been pleased with his play thus far.
"He brings a lot of energy and athleticism to his position," head coach Mark Richt said. "What he lacks in experience sometimes he makes up for with his effort and his instincts. He’s got a ways to go, but so far he’s done a nice job for us.”
And for Wiggins, the often tough transition from high school to college has become easier with each start he logs on Georgia's defense — especially considering he's already seen the likes of Jordan Matthews and Dorial Green-Beckham in just his first year of play.
The smack-talk may continue, but perhaps somewhere down the road Wiggins will shed the label of "small cornerback."
“Hopefully, once this football season’s over, I should get up to like 175. I know the coaching staff was real hard on me. I’m going to have to eat right and lift pretty hard next season," he said.
Or maybe that won't even matter.
“I’ve definitely gotten more confidence playing against the receivers I’ve played against," he said. "The game is slowing down for me a bit, so I’m starting to see certain things."