Despite medical retirement, Dietrich Riley stays close to football

Jack Wang/Los Angeles News Group

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

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Cornerback Priest Willis academically cleared by NCAA

Cornerback Priest Willis has received academic clearance from the NCAA, solidifying UCLA’s inexperienced secondary.

The Bruins heard the news at around 2 p.m., just a few hours before Thursday’s afternoon practice in San Bernardino. Arguably the most highly regarded of UCLA’s four freshman defensive backs, Willis has played well early on and should be a crucial piece of a secondary that returns no starters.

“He stands out,” head coach Jim Mora said. “He absolutely, positively can play corner at this level. He has the quickness. He has the burst. He’s got the length.”

– Safety Dietrich Riley is still working with the team as an undergraduate assistant. The junior had missed all of last season recovering from neck surgery, and took a medical retirement last month.

“I just think it’s important that we offer him that opportunity to see what he wants to do with his life,” Mora said. “For him to be out here with Tahaan (Goodman), with Tyler Foreman and some of those other (freshmen), it’s pretty selfless to me.

“He had big plans in terms of what his football career was gonna look like. It didn’t work out the way he wanted it. Rather than mourn, he’s just OK.” Continue reading

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UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr ready to embrace hype

CULVER CITY – If Anthony Barr’s growing hype can be distilled into a single sequence, it would be one on Nov. 17, 2012. That day, the UCLA linebacker blew through USC’s line untouched, crushing quarterback Matt Barkley on second-and-seventh.

Less than three minutes later, UCLA beat USC 38-28, winning the rivalry for the first time since 2006. Shoulder separated, Barkley never played another collegiate down.

Asked about the moment at Friday’s Pac-12 Media Day, Barr laughed.

“I want to know why the tackle just let me go, for whatever reason,” Barr said. “He should be standing up here and talking to you guys, because he’s the reason why I was able to make that play.” Continue reading

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Safety Dietrich Riley takes medical retirement

UCLA safety Dietrich Riley has taken a medical retirement after missing all of the 2012 season due to a neck injury, ending the career of a once-touted four-star recruit. The Los Angeles Times first reported the news.

The 6-0, 200-pound rising junior would have been the most experienced member of the Bruins’ secondary, a unit that lost all four of last season’s starters. He had not played since colliding with Cal running back Isi Sofele in October 2011, an injury that required him to undergo single-level fusion surgery.

Riley had sounded optimistic about his chances to return, saying that his neck felt even stronger than it did before the operation. He also injured his shoulder during spring practices and was held out of most full-contact drills.

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Safety Dietrich Riley easing back after shoulder setback

Dietrich Riley had already fought his way back from one injury. He didn’t think he’d suffer another just one week into UCLA’s spring camp.

After sitting out all of last season recovering from neck surgery, the rising redshirt junior safety separated his right shoulder on April 6 — just the third practice session this month.

Riley had gotten his arm caught up trying to pry the ball loose during one-on-one drills, and the pain he suddenly felt had him fearing the worse. He said he tried to think positively, but couldn’t contain all his emotions as the staff worked to pop his shoulder back in on the sideline.

“Sitting in that shade area with the trainer, I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I kind of broke down. I started crying because I’ve been working my tail off the whole offseason, just doing whatever I can to prepare myself mentally and physically. Then that accident happens.”

Luckily for him and the Bruins, the most experienced member of the secondary didn’t require surgery. Riley is gradually working back into practice with a red jersey. He said the shoulder feels fine, though he hasn’t gone full contact yet. He rehabs two to three times a day.

“He’s such a football-intelligent kid,” defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin said. “When we throw him back out there, it’s like he never fell off. It’s like riding a bike to him. The thing is, it’s going to be vital to get him back and get him healthy.”

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Wednesday practice notes: Safety Randall Goforth more assertive

Attrition has left rising sophomore Randall Goforth as UCLA’s most experienced defensive back.

Tevin McDonald, who had 79 tackles last season, is transferring to Eastern Washington after being dismissed prior to spring camp. Dietrich Riley, who had 36 tackles through eight games in 2011, is unavailable too; already working back from a neck injury, a separated shoulder has left him on the exercise bike.

So here’s Goforth, whose 40 tackles as a freshman were overshadowed by a Twitter impersonator that trash-talked USC players using his name. The 5-foot-10 safety had his moments last season, but ended the campaign on a down note — getting burned by Baylor’s tailbacks and receivers in a 49-26 Holiday Bowl loss.

This spring, head coach Jim Mora said Goforth has a much greater command of the defense, praising his assertiveness in making calls.

“He’s playing with a lot more confidence,” Mora said. “I really believe that experience, even though it wasn’t always positive last year — he struggled in that Baylor game. But I think he went back and he really learned from it.”

Added Goforth, who said he’s up from 175 pounds to 193: “All offseason, I was just getting bigger, getting stronger, getting faster so I can more physical on the field.”

» Replacing tight end/Y-receiver Joseph Fauria as a red-zone threat won’t be easy. No. 1 receiver Shaq Evans figures to get more looks there, as will sophomore Jordan Payton — who has had a solid if not spectacular camp so far.

Also key will be the performance of Darius Bell, whom Mora called one of last season’s most underrated Bruins. Continue reading

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Monday night practice notes: Anthony Jefferson shedding injury history

Maybe the wind helped as it whipped passes off course Monday night, making for the worst quarterback performance yet through UCLA’s spring practices. Or maybe this is how Anthony Jefferson was always meant to play.

The rising junior was once a four-star athlete in the class of 2010, a rangy 6-foot-1 specimen pegged by Rivals.com to have “blue chip” size, agility and ball skills. But a variety of ails set him back, from a broken foot his freshman year to back surgery in 2011.

Last season, his eight appearances resulted in just five tackles — four of which came at Washington State. On Monday, however, he looked like a solid rotation player, sticking close to receivers on several routes and using his long frame to break up passes.

“I think that finally, he’s feeling more healthy,” head coach Jim Mora said. “I think finally, AJ is getting back to what he once was physically. I think it’s showing in the way he plays, the confidence he plays with and the plays he’s making on the ball.” Continue reading

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UCLA football injury update

The most significant injury so far in spring camp didn’t happen to a player.

While trying to demonstrate a route on Sunday, UCLA wide receivers coach Eric Yarber went down with what appeared to be a torn tendon in his quad. The 49-year-old lay on the ground for a few minutes before carted off.

“That was scary,” head coach Jim Mora said. “Initially, we went over there and I thought he either dislocated his hip or his knee. My first thought, honestly, was oh no — is he having a heart attack?”

A torn tendon was a relief after that initial scare, and Yarber should be back on the field barking at wideouts before too long.

“He’s got to remember that he’s almost 50,” Mora said. “His body doesn’t work like an 18, 20 year old anymore. I think he learned that rather dramatically today.”

As for the players, linebacker Eric Kendricks was on crutches and a boot after spraining his right ankle on Thursday. Mora termed it as “mild to significant,” and wasn’t sure if the rising junior would return this April. Continue reading

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Dietrich Riley disappointed for dismissed safety Tevin McDonald

Safety Tevin McDonald’s dismissal for a violation of team policy, announced last week, has left the secondary without any returning starters. Junior Dietrich Riley, a fellow member of UCLA’s 2010 recruiting class, now takes the mantle as the group’s most experienced player despite missing all of last season recovering from his neck injury.

“We’re disappointed, but you can’t change what happened in the past,” Riley said. “You just gotta accept it and move forward.

“I wish him the best of luck. I love that dude. We were really close. We made great plays on the field together. I know he’s gonna learn from this, and he’s definitely gonna have a great comeback.” Continue reading

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UCLA football spring practice primer

Football’s back! As a reminder, here’s UCLA’s full spring practice schedule. All sessions are open to the public and will last approximately two hours.

Tues. Apr. 2 – 7 a.m.
Thu. Apr. 4 – 7 a.m.
Sat. Apr. 6 – 10:45 a.m.
Mon. Apr. 8 – 6 p.m.
Wed. Apr. 10 – 7 a.m.
Thu. Apr. 11 – 7 a.m.
Sat. Apr. 13 – 10:30 a.m.
Mon. Apr. 15 – 6 p.m.
Wed. Apr. 17 – 7 a.m.
Thu. Apr. 18 – 7 a.m.
Sat. Apr. 20 – 10:30 a.m.
Mon. Apr. 22 – 6 p.m.
Wed. Apr. 24 – 7 a.m.
Thu. Apr. 25 – 7 a.m.
Sat. Apr. 27 – 5 p.m. (Rose Bowl)

A quick primer after the jump. Continue reading

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