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Raiders' Riley proves to be unstoppable force


Adam Minichino



WEST POINT -- Drew Riley is persistent. 


The Oak Hill Academy junior running back understands the notion you stick with something until a team adjusts or stops you. But nearly three days after one of his best rushing efforts of his career, even Riley admits he would have liked coach Tony Stanford to have called a different running play, if only to add a little variety to what had the feeling of a Bill Murray-flavored evening in West Point. 


As it was, Riley remained steadfast and took handoff after handoff. In the process, he earned the best praise any athlete can receive from their coach. 


"I thought (Drew) just took the game over," Stanford said of Riley's 196-yard rushing performance in Oak Hill Academy's 29-14 victory against Canton Academy. Riley caught one of three touchdown passes thrown by quarterback Riley Pierce and added a rushing score in the fourth quarter to help the Raiders (5-4, 3-1 Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AA, District 2) forge a three-way tie in the district with Canton Academy and Leake Academy. 


For his accomplishments, Riley is The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week. 


"It felt like I was taking over, but I really never thought about it," Riley said. "Coach kept calling the same play because they never adjusted to it. We kept running it down their throat the whole game. Hopefully, we can do it this week the same with Leake (Academy) and get a district championship." 


Riley's effort came three weeks after he missed a game against Heritage Academy due to a leg injury. Riley, a 5-foot-10, 156-pounder, also plays outside linebacker. He said he first injured the leg against Winston Academy and admitted to feeling like he had a "dead leg" in the game against Newton County Academy. After missing a game, Riley rebounded to rush for 169 yards and three touchdowns in a victory against Manchester Academy. 


Riley's effort Friday night gives him 131 carries for 921 yards (7 yards per carry) and 11 touchdowns. Thanks to his duties as punt and kick returners, Riley has 1,281 all-purpose yards. 


"It didn't matter what we called, he was still gaining yards," Stanford said. "The last drive, coach kept calling his number over and over. I tried to get him to stop, but he wouldn't do it." 


Whether it is returning kicks or lining up behind Pierce and his brother, senior Drake Riley, Drew said his style doesn't change. He said the key is to drive his feet all of the time so he can get as many yards as possible. He said he doesn't mind running between the tackles if that is the way to the end zone. Against Canton Academy, Riley played the role of pinball, careening off defenders and using his balance to stay on his feet. 


"It starts off with summer workouts," Riley said of his balance. "I do quick steps and juking and sharp cuts. It helps me with my footwork." 


Riley also credits Daniel Merchant, his former coach at Oak Hill Academy who is defensive coordinator at West Lowndes High School, for helping him read his keys to know when and where to make his cuts as quickly as he can. 


"It has been working since last season," Riley said. "Heck, I am almost to a 1,000 yards. I could have had it last year -- possibly -- if I didn't get hurt." 


Riley credited his offensive line for doing a great job opening holes and pushing the Raiders a step closer to a district title and a spot in the playoffs. On Monday, Riley called the effort against Canton Academy "the highlight of his career." He hopes he and the offensive line can continue their strong play to help the team have an extended postseason run. 


To do that, Stanford might have to resort to a "Groundhog Day" script in which Riley runs the same play again and again and again. Judging from last week, though, that script could play sweet dividends. 


"I really think he did (get stronger as the game went on)," Stanford said. "Late in the ballgame, he made some really good runs. I think every carry but maybe one was between the tackles.  


"He runs good up in there. He will make a cut and it looks like when he makes the cut he has extra speed and he just takes off. You can't tell a back like that where to run. They just have to see it with their eyes. He does an excellent job finding holes and gaining yards." 


Said Riley, "I have had a pretty good season. I think I could have done better in a couple of games, but, like I said, I work as hard as I can and I get what the defense gives me. I follow my blocks and get as many yards as I can." 


Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor


Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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