LI’s Elijah Riley takes high road to success, and NFL

Written by on October 17, 2020

Elijah Riley was dwelling within the second. He sat on the group bus and peered out the window to mirror on his journey.

The 10-minute bus journey from the group lodge to Heinz Discipline in Pittsburgh felt prefer it took a lifetime. Riley relished each second.

He remembered the shorter bus rides whereas starring for Newfield Excessive Faculty the place he earned the 54th Carl A. Hansen Award, offered to Suffolk’s high participant. And he regarded again on the bus rides the place he captained Military’s soccer group at West Level.

The flashbacks took him on the trail the place he finds himself now.

He was on his method to fulfill his lifelong dream, getting ready to take the sphere together with his Philadelphia Eagles teammates in opposition to the Pittsburgh Steelers final Sunday.

His childhood purpose of enjoying within the NFL was about to be realized.

“I used to be overcome with emotion, the journey was so significant,” he mentioned. “I thought of my mother and father, all my coaches and teammates and all of the laborious work. You start to understand all of the little issues that helped put you in such an extremely blessed place. It’s superior and overwhelming suddenly – so that you soak all of it in and take nothing with no consideration.”

Riley, sporting quantity 48, performed on all particular groups, 14 performs in all, as Philadelphia fell to Pittsburgh, 38-29.

“I used to be getting actually anxious Saturday night time and had bother attending to sleep as a result of I used to be so amped,” Riley mentioned. “I needed to chill earlier than the bus journey to the stadium. It was my first day trip for pregame and I used to be getting a really feel for the way recreation day works. I used to be visualizing performs I needed to make. However I didn’t need to get too forward of myself. I didn’t need pregame to be the spotlight of my day. I needed to have an effect on the sport. I needed to make a play. And I needed to hold reminding myself that it doesn’t matter what stage I’m at, it’s nonetheless the sport of soccer.”

Riley mentioned he listened to some R&B music to calm down earlier than the sport. And simply earlier than group warmups put his extra hard-core play checklist on. He conceded that 20 minutes earlier than kickoff the adrenalin actually kicked in. He strapped his helmet on and walked down the tunnel.

“My NFL entrance . . . and it’s me and it’s the best factor ever,” he mentioned.

In today of a worldwide pandemic, each a part of the childhood dream was coming true aside from operating out of the tunnel right into a roaring stadium stuffed to capability.

“After we walked down the tunnel into the stadium it actually hit me,” Riley mentioned. “This was it – my childhood dream. We had about 5,000 followers there because it was the primary week the state of Pennsylvania allowed some followers into the stadium. They have been loud sufficient and higher than the regular crowd noise that’s pumped into stadiums.”

Within the final half century, Riley, a 5-foot-11, 214-pound defensive again, is amongst an elite group of 5 gamers to make it from West Level to the NFL. The 22-year-old from Port Jeff, who led Newfield to the 2015 Lengthy Island Class II title and was named Newsday’s Participant of the Yr, had made it to the large time.

“Elijah was destined to be a professional,” mentioned Newfield soccer coach Joe Piccininni, who led the Wolverines to 2 LI Class II titles in 13 years. “He had all of the qualities and the work ethic it takes to get there. He had the cerebral a part of the sport down. He mixed the research of movie with a pure athletic potential and carried himself effectively on and off the sphere. He was an ideal match for West Level. That is the tip of the iceberg of what he can accomplish as an individual and a participant.”

Riley’s highway to his debut at Heinz Discipline was something however straightforward. Enjoying for a navy academy doesn’t warrant a lot consideration from NFL scouts. He was additionally anticipated to satisfy his navy obligations after commencement.

Beneath what was current Protection Division guidelines, he was required to serve at the very least two years within the active-duty Military earlier than being thought-about for a waiver to pursue an expert sports activities profession. However Riley took benefit of a chance to talk with President Donald Trump, in an occasion with the Military soccer group in Could 2019, when Trump offered the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the 2018 season.

“I requested President Trump if there could possibly be a waiver to play professional ball proper after commencement and mainly put our navy dedication on maintain,” Riley mentioned. “And we might fulfill that obligation after a professional profession.”

Riley mentioned the query caught Trump off guard and he was uncertain how the president would react at first.

“He was stunned however regrouped shortly,” Riley mentioned.

In June 2019, President Trump directed the Pentagon to create a brand new coverage that will permit the direct transition from the academies to skilled sports activities. 5 months later, Secretary of Protection Mark Esper signed a memo with new pointers that permit academy graduates to both delay their navy obligation or repay the price of their training.

“The waiver opened the door to play professionally proper after commencement,” he mentioned. “I simply needed the prospect.”

Riley had one other important hurdle – COVID-19.

And because the world continued to deal with COVID-19, Riley was pressured to indicate his skillset to the 32 NFL groups by means of his earlier play on movie as his Professional Day (March 24) exercise was canceled.

“There have been just a few hurdles,” Riley mentioned with amusing. “However if you need one thing unhealthy sufficient . . . you determine the way to go get it.”

Riley, who’d totaled 201 tackles (essentially the most by any academy DB), seven interceptions, and 28 move breakups over the previous 4 years, was additionally a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award [given to the best DB in college football].

He discovered a method to navigate the pandemic and work out on his personal to enhance his pace. The Eagles signed him as an undrafted free agent following the 2020 NFL draft. They lower him after which re-signed him to the group’s observe group. He was activated for the Steelers recreation.

“I’m not stunned he earned the chance,” mentioned Newfield assistant coach Eric Joyner. “Elijah is pushed in each method. His management qualities earned him the captainship at Newfield and West Level. He’s a superior open area tackler and his greatest attribute is he has the knack for being in the proper spot on the proper time.”

Lengthy Island’s highschool coaches agreed Riley was a particular participant with the proper make-up to be an expert.

“While you coach on Lengthy Island for quite a lot of years there are only a few children that soar off the display when watching movie,” mentioned East Islip coach Sal J. Ciampi. “Riley was distinctive. He regarded completely different – like he was shifting at a special pace than the opposite gamers. He had the ‘uh-oh impact’ on movie.”

Ciampi mentioned Riley was additionally spectacular off the sphere.

“I’ll always remember the speech he gave on the Hansen Award dinner,” Ciampi mentioned. “I used to be by no means extra impressed. However you then perceive why he went to West Level. He’s all about household and honor and dedication. He will get it far past simply soccer. He’s a job mannequin, somebody I’d like my son to emulate.”

Riley will line up Sunday in opposition to the Baltimore Ravens at Lincoln Monetary Discipline at 1 p.m. He’ll begin on particular groups and should get into the secondary in opposition to reigning NFL MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson.

“The distinction between the NFL and school is how briskly the large guys transfer,” Riley mentioned. “They’re extremely athletic and a few of them are shifting like they’re in my physique.”

Riley mentioned soccer began at a younger age with the Central Suffolk Ravens and the PAL Centereach Cougars and simply dreaming large.

“There have been all the time challenges,” he mentioned. “And that’s the place perseverance requires ardour. And that I’ve as a result of I really like soccer.”

Ah, the Lifetime of Riley!

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