COLUMN: Ole Miss’ desire to sign another versatile linebacker along with current verbal pledge RaShawn Smith for the 2013 signing class may end up coming from the top high school program in the nation.
River Ridge, La., native Duke Riley (6-foot-1, 212 pounds) just wrapped up a super successful career at John Curtis High School. Curtis defeated Evangel Christian 35-13 to win the 2A state title in Louisiana and finish the year 14-0, a record that also earned them a final ranking of No. 1 the nation by MaxPreps.com. Riley was a big part of the Patriots’ success this year as he racked up 124 tackles, with 16 going for a loss, two sacks and an interception he returned for a touchdown. He was named the 2A Defensive Player of the Year for his efforts and he leaves high school with 361 total tackles. He also earned a spot on the MaxPreps 2012 All-America second team along with another Ole Miss target, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche.
Bringing a lot
“Duke brings a lot of good qualities to the table and I think besides being a tremendous athlete, he has great leadership skills and he has great intensity in the way he plays. He also brings great character to the team and I think that he is the caliber person that Coach (Hugh) Freeze is looking for,” said Riley’s coach, J.T. Curtis. “Duke is the kind of guy that is focused on the task at hand. He recognizes the importance of what he is trying to get accomplished and he’s committed to getting that accomplished. That’s the reason he’s had the success that he’s had.”
Curtis said Riley, who has made officials visits to Minnesota, TCU and Tulane so far, is dedicated to being a great player.
“He’s a guy that’s going to be prepared to play. He plays with great intensity. You hate to say he’s a perfect player because he certainly makes mistakes like all of us do, but his level of preparation to go to the field and perform and then once he gets on that field to be able to play at a high level with intensity, he’s as good as anybody I’ve had,” Curtis said. “That’s a pretty strong statement but he is a guy that can run to the football and can close the distance of not allowing big plays to happen when a plays break. Again, I think what will happen when he gets to college, is he will put on that natural weight and probably end up being a 225-, 227-pound linebacker that can just run and cover in the open field and have the ability to make big plays because of the speed he possess.”
Riley is currently gearing up for the track season where he competes in the hurdles and other field events such as the discus.
“Duke is an excellent hurdler. He won the state last year in the discus and competed in the hurdles. He’s really committed to track and field and he does a great job … he even runs in one of our relays. He really has great speed and a great work ethic to excel in track and field also,” said Curtis, who added he may even try to help the track team in college. “I think that will depend on how develops this year. I don’t know if he’ll really have the time to put in to do what they have to do at that level but certainly he has the skill to be able to do that. Duke’s main focus is football and I think that will be what it comes down to, his best interest as a football player.”
Ever since the football season ended, Riley has been dealing with recruiting more than he ever has in part because of his recent growth physically.
“Really and truly I am not a fan of all of this early committing when a guy is a sophomore in high school and he gets maybe some attention and then doesn’t develop as much as they thought he was going to and people are trying to drop him. So my preference is to have this process play out naturally and normally and I think when a young man gets to be in the spring of his junior year, the tempo of recruiting will pick up and that’s exactly what happened with Duke,” Curtis said. “He is a guy that grew a little bit late in terms of his height but as far as interest from people as a sophomore, interest really picked up in him as a player.”
Besides holding offers from Minnesota, TCU, Tulane and Ole Miss, LSU offered Riley a conditional offer a week before Christmas meaning they want him to delay his enrollment for a year rather than report with the 2013 class in the summer. Curtis has helped advise Riley during the recruiting process so he can make the right choice he is comfortable with.
“My involvement is strictly to ask questions and to make sure that the process stays positive. I want our players to go to a university that they’re going to be happy at, that they’re going to get their education, which is their primary reason for going there. I’m going to stay involved so that the process stays civil if you will. It does not make any difference to me if he goes Mississippi College or whether he goes to Ole Miss or he goes to LSU or he goes to Louisiana College,” Curtis said. “I want him to go to where he’s going to be able to excel as a student, as a person and as an athlete. That’s where my involvement is and I do stay pretty closely involved with it. I have no agenda. I have no desire to use him for something that would benefit me and the only thing I’m looking for is for Duke to have the same opportunities that my two sons have and that was to have a quality experience in college and be able to get their degree and get out in the world have a great experience there after they’re finished with college football.”
Curtis added that Ole Miss wide receiver coach Grant Heard has done a great job with Riley.
“It’s been a good experience, it really has. They’ve just done a great job with him. He and one of my junior players went up and had a good experience this summer. They all went through camp for a day or so and they enjoyed the experience there,” Curtis said. “Ole Miss has made a positive impact on them from that experience. Coach Heard has done a great job. He’s a good man. Of course he played the game and I think that he’s done the things he’s needed to do to keep Duke interested in Ole Miss at this point. We try to keep recruiting to a low level until we get (season) finished and of course we didn’t get finished until the second weekend of December.”
Riley was visited by LSU coach Les Miles Wednesday night for an in-home, a day after Freeze and Heard visited him at his school. In an interview with Mike Coppage of Scout.com, Riley said he was entertaining coaches from Kentucky today at his home. Riley is frequently on Twitter (@1Goal1Dream) and he raved about his trip to Tulane this past weekend, saying he “didn’t even feel like he was in New Orleans” during one post.
A decision from Riley is expected in the near future, maybe even as early as the weekend.