By Steve Ramirez, Staff Writer
LOS ANGELES – A year ago, Dietrich Riley would do whatever it took to get on the Rose Bowl turf.
But now, a year later, it may be his time to shine.
“Being penciled in as a starter, gives me a lot of confidence,” said Riley, a former St. Francis High School star who came to UCLA as one of the top defensive back recruits in the country. “It makes me want to work harder.
“I just want to prove that I’m that guy who can make big plays. I’m excited. I have a lot of energy going into the season and I want to prove to the world that UCLA is going to be a great team this year.”
If the Bruins are to recapture some of their past glory, Riley could play a major role in that transition.
The sophomore saw limited playing time as a freshman, but there were some indications of future greatness.
He played in 11 of UCLA’s 12 games and had 22 tackles. But he caught some attention with a jarring hit on Oregon State star Jacquizz Rodgers in UCLA’s 17-14 victory on Nov. 6. It’s one of the most viewed sports videos on YouTube.
It also was a quick glimpse of the Pasadena native’s untapped potential.
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“Dietrich is one of those guys who likes to work hard, because he’s seen it pay off,” said former Charter Oak star Jason David, an ex-NFL defensive back who won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts before working out with several collegiate defensive backs, including Riley, during the offseason. “He brings it and understands the game.
“The guy plays with intensity that I can appreciate. He reminds me of a (NFL veteran) Bob Sanders. He’s a kid who plays downhill, is fearless, fast and aggressive. He’s has great ball skills and some of the better feet than I’ve seen at the safety position.”
Riley, a four-star recruit who was expected to carry on the tradition of great Bruin safeties which includes All-Americans Kenny Easley, Don Rogers and James Washington, knew his first season would be a transition.
“Last year, I accepted the role I was playing,” said Riley, who shared time between special teams and selective defensive packages. “It was a way for me to get on the field. I told coach (Rick) Neuheisel I would do whatever I could do to get on the field.
“I was backing up two guys who were definitely very good. Tony Dye (who is back this season) is a nominee for the Ronnie Lott Award, and Rahim Moore is in the NFL. I accepted that role last year because I wanted to prove to them what I was capable of doing and that they can rely on me.”
Now he wants to take the next step in becoming one of the top defensive backs in the new Pac-12.
Riley, expected to start at strong safety, also understands that just doesn’t happen on game day. It’s developed between Saturdays in the fall and during the offseason.
“It comes down to what you do on the field,” Riley said. “The guys around me were just pushing me, and they made me work harder. I know if I pick it up in the weight room that’s going to help me on the field.
“It’s important to train in the weight room so I can go on the field and do some great things.”
His new beginning starts Sept. 3 when UCLA travels to Houston to open the season. But Riley said he and his teammates, while wanting to flush away a 4-8 season, also will use that disappointment as motivation for what they believe could be the first step in a return to glory.
“(Last season) was really tough, because we (as a recruiting class) had high expectations coming to UCLA,” Riley said. “We wanted to change the program around.
“But at the same time, it’s hard to come in as a freshman, step in and change the program. That’s going to take time for us to learn the system. But this year, we’re playing with a chip on our shoulder. We plan on doing some better things. I see great things happening.”