Riley Makes His Choice
Choosing to play football for UCLA was the most difficult decision Dietrich Riley has had to make, and it kept him up at night tossing and turning.
As a highly-prized high school star at St. Francis High in La Canada, Riley, who played running back and safety, was sometimes at loose ends with the process.
Recently, I asked Riley, a guard on the Golden Knights’ basketball team, if he’s glad the recruiting process is finished. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he said before a CIF Southern Section Division IV AA second-round playoff game against Bishop Amat. “I’m glad it’s over, so now I can concentrate on football.”
When you’re so gifted that USC, UCLA, Florida, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Louisiana State, Texas, Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama, Arizona State, Mississippi and Tennessee, to name but a few of the more than 30 colleges interested, you know the spotlight is going to be intense. Even for Riley, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound dynamo, it became draining.
Ultimately, it boiled down to USC and UCLA, with the Trojans holding an upper hand given that Riley is a lifelong USC fan, and that he has been invited to USC’s summer camp by former Head Coach Pete Carroll, who has since moved on to the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, since age 12.
Carroll was so taken with Riley that he began recruiting him as a sophomore, and offered him a scholarship. On the night Riley made his official visit to USC, he was wearing Trojans’ socks while on the hardwood floor.
But UCLA Head Coach Rick Neuheisel, who just completed his second season, had other plans. Dogged and determined, Neuheisel made his pitch during Riley’s junior season. In fact, Neuheisel was on the St. Francis sideline when the Golden Knights hosted Gahr in a first-round playoff game. As usual, Riley shined and delivered, and St. Francis prevailed. Afterward, I asked Riley if he noticed Neuheisel. He said that he had, and that he hoped he was pleased.
Dating back to Riley’s sophomore season, I’ve probably seen him play slightly more than a half-dozen times, and like everyone else, felt his skill and poise would easily translate to big-time Division I-A college football.
Riley possesses traits that are prized: speed, instinct, and smarts. Though Riley has sprinter’s speed, he’s not afraid to run between the tackles. If a defender wants to put a helmet on him, so be it. Riley’s not going to shy away from contact.
What further set Riley apart was that he was more than mere statistics. Topping the century mark on the ground, catching passes in the flat, and chipping in with his share of tackles was nice. What mattered most was: Did the Golden Knights win?
Unselfish describes Riley best. After a 7-6 season, UCLA is in the middle of a rebuilding process, and with more players like Riley, the Bruins will rise to the top. The building blocks are there.