A lot of times during the course of a game Naples coach Bill Kramer and his assistants find it hard to communicate with their defense. That may be worrisome for most coaches, but for the Golden Eagles staff, it isn’t a problem with Chris Riley on the field.
On a defense that includes high-end talent like Miami cornerback commit Tyler Byrd and linebacker Robert Green, it’s Riley, the senior safety, who runs the show. His evolving defensive IQ mixed with tremendous athleticism and improving measurables have landed him on the radars of many college coaches and has him ranked No. 13 among The News-Press’ list of top recruits in Southwest Florida.
Kramer said a lot of what makes Riley valuable can’t be seen during games.
“He’s a tremendous competitor, so he prepares,” said Kramer, whose team finished 11-2 last season with a district title. “He works to understand the fits of the entire secondary. He knows the cover responsibilities of the entire back seven.”
His help in run support made Naples one of the stingiest run defenses in the area.
When diagnosing a play, Riley, who led his team in tackles with 103 last season, doesn’t fall into the trap of looking into the backfield first like most players in the secondary. He focuses on the last opposing player on the line of scrimmage — a tackle or extended tight end — and reads run block or pass block before deciding whether to move down in support or not.
In addition to tremendous length at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Riley also has enough speed (4.6-second 40-yard dash) to run down speedy ball carriers from behind.
“I never want to take a loss,” Riley said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to win.”
That includes taking over kickoff duties when Naples’ placekicker was held out of 43-0 win over Barron Collier with an injury last year. A kicker in Pop Warner and at the junior varsity level, Riley boomed his first kick inside the Cougar 5 and followed with a touchback and another kick inside the 5. More deep kicks followed during the rout.
“Chris ended up telling me he could have kicked a lot further if he took his shoe off,” Kramer recalled. “That’s just the kind of kid he is and why a school will be lucky to have him.”
Riley’s recruitment wasn’t expected to heat up this spring after a torn labrum kept him out of all 20 of the May practices. Yet, Air Force and Eastern Michigan liked what they saw on film and offered.
Riley, however, set his sights a bit higher, hoping to use football as a vehicle to receive one of the best educations in the country. In order to catch the attention of the Ivy League schools he needed to raise his ACT composite score.
While camping at UConn late last month, he received news he scored a 29 on the test and quickly notified Harvard and Yale. He visited both schools and left with offers.
His plan is to attend a camp at Wake Forest next week and, hopefully, receive an offer before verbally committing somewhere in advance of his senior season.
“I don’t want to be one of those guys who says I want to play for you and then back out,” Riley said. “I want to make sure I’m making the right decision.”
When he concludes the process his entire focus will be on chasing Naples’ third state title. And Kramer has raised his expectations for Riley.
“For all the guys who are elite players, I expect them to play like elite players,” Kramer said. “On balls in the air good players usually tip, I expect elite players to intercept them. When there’s a small space a good player may not get through, I expect the elite players to get through them and run down the ball carrier. Chris is certainly an elite player.”
About The Big 15
Since July 3, The News-Press has published a profile on a standout football recruit every Tuesday and Friday. Players going into their junior and senior years were considered from both Lee and Collier County, with respect paid to those with hard scholarship offers and those without who possess great potential. The top 15 candidates were named and ranked, with the last story focusing on the very best recruit in Southwest Florida.