Several thousand fans pour down the Rose Bowl, swarming players for autographs and pictures on a cool April night. The UCLA football team has just wrapped up its annual spring game. Not thrilling football, but football nonetheless. The school announces a crowd of exactly 20,000.
Perhaps no one is happier to see them than Dietrich Riley. For the past 18 months, the former star recruit had been recovering from a frightening neck injury, one that erased what would have been his junior season.
He was ready for his comeback.
Riley hugs a teenage girl, then poses for a picture with two others. A spiky-haired boy comes up to him and requests an autograph on his replica jersey. The father asks Riley to write all the way across, and he obliges. All the way? Why not? He scrawls his name, filling the blank above the “1” — his number.
The 6-foot, 200-pound safety smiles as he soaks in the attention, his green eyes glistening. Riley believes he will return, his neck even stronger than it was before the injury. He practiced in spring with a red jersey on, but separated his shoulder when his arm got caught in a one-on-one drill. Only a minor setback, he says.
He does not know that his football career will officially end in three months.
Almost every anecdote from Dietrich Riley’s playing days involves hitting. He was always aggressive, so much so that his mother worried that other parents would complain.
Freshman Bruins safety Tyler Foreman, who idolized Riley when both played Pop Warner at Pasadena’s Victory Park, recalls the hit on Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers in 2010 — one that popped off the tailback’s helmet. “It was one of the biggest hits I’ve seen in college football,” Foreman says.
It began on the front yard. Continue reading