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Staff photo / Tennessee running back Gerald Riggs Jr. celebrates after scoring the winning touchdown in the Vols' 30-27 overtime victory at LSU on Sept. 26, 2005.

Gerald Riggs Jr. knows a thing or two about what being in great condition can do for an athlete.

In the 2000 TSSAA Class 5A football championship game, he put the Red Bank Lions on his back, carrying the ball 31 times for 209 yards to bring the program what remains its lone state title. Five years later, he rushed for 89 yards and two touchdowns — including the winning score — as the 10th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers won an overtime battle with third-ranked LSU in Baton Rouge.

Thousands saw the payoff for Riggs. Few saw what he had paid in — not that it mattered to him.

"In high school, I really started getting into lifting," he said. "My dad and I would get up at 5 a.m. every morning and go lift before school. After school, I would go run whenever it wasn't football season. You get into a groove with working out and training, and it sticks with you. Putting in the work was always something I enjoyed."

When he signed with Tennessee, Riggs was the nation's seventh-ranked college football recruit for the class of 2002. He helped the Vols to back-to-back 10-win seasons as a sophomore and junior, and despite having his senior season end early due to injury, he had NFL opportunities, first with the Miami Dolphins and then the Chicago Bears, though he never played in a game for either team.

When Riggs found himself out of football altogether from 2008 to 2010, though, things got tough.

"I hit a low point during that time and had gotten up to 265 pounds, which was a lot for me," the 6-foot Riggs said. "At that point in time, it was like, 'Hey, are you going to get yourself together or crawl in a hole?'"

The Canadian Football League came calling, and Riggs saw a way to get back out of a funk and focus on his fitness again while with the Toronto Argonauts from 2011 to 2013.

The son of an all-time Atlanta Falcons great was rejuvenated and showed it during the 2012 CFL season as he totaled 368 yards and scored two touchdowns in four games.

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Staff photo / Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer congratulates running back Gerald Riggs Jr. after a play during the Vols' 38-7 rout of Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl Classic on Jan. 1, 2005.

"I learned how to eat properly and get fit all over again," Riggs said. "Learning how to do that through others that worked with me sparked a passion for me that I wanted to train and help other people. I always told myself whatever I did for a living, I wanted to be passionate about it. To me, helping others with their fitness doesn't feel like work. Soon after my playing career ended, I got into it and have ran with it ever since."

In May 2014, he fulfilled his longtime dream of giving back to where he came from and made a name for himself by opening Beast University, a performance training center. The Chattanooga-area athletes he has helped include Kentucky basketball player Rhyne Howard, Tulane football player Patrick Johnson and Baylor School basketball player Raegyn Conley, a junior who has committed to Wake Forest.

With an accomplished football career behind him, Riggs works to prepare athletes to be ready for their own opportunities.

"When you get to college and the pros, there are gifted athletes all around you with great abilities, too," Riggs said. "But it comes down to 'Are you ready to go further than the other guy or girl?'

"The goal I have when I work with my athletes is to not only make sure they understand themselves and how they move, but also to be in the best shape possible. When conditioning is not there, that's when your will tends to break a little and you can make mistakes or get injured."

Riggs said he wants to motivate local athletes and everyday people to "never quit" no matter how frustrating and painful it can be to get the results and reach fitness goals, and he uses everything from plyometrics (jumping) to speed work while training for all types of sports.

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Staff photo / Tennesee running back Gerald Riggs Jr. sprints away from Alabama defenders during the old rivals' matchup on Oct. 22, 2005, in Tuscaloosa. Riggs was forced out of the game due to injury in the second half, and the Vols lost 6-3.

With the COVID-19 pandemic limiting in-person training opportunities, Riggs has conducted live workouts using Zoom video conferencing. Still, he was looking forward to getting back in the gym as businesses reopened.

"I get to play around every day and teach others how to learn their bodies," Riggs said. "Everyone is different and has their own way, and it is fun to see people find their own way in the gym."

Riggs moved to Chattanooga in the ninth grade after growing up in Atlanta, where his father made three Pro Bowls during his seven seasons (1982-88) with the Falcons. It's obvious Chattanooga is special to him.

"I want to see people be successful and achieve what all they want," he said. "I take pride in coming from a school here in town that has a really rich tradition in football. There have been so many great people here for my family and I, and I want to give back and show good things can happen for them, too."

Riggs, a veteran of his own athletic battles, wants to help others win theirs.

"You have to have a drive to really accomplish something," he said. "Beast University is all about those who really want to push themselves and use athletics as a doorway to other things. These kids in town have dreams and aspirations, as do many others, and I want to help them get there.

"Getting in shape is therapeutic."

Contact Patrick MacCoon at pmaccoon@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.

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