After a scary neck injury last season, safety Dietrich Riley underwent single-level fusion surgery in April. In a procedure to what Peyton Manning had, doctors took bone for his hip and used it to fuse two vertebrae. The junior was cleared for non-contact in October and hopes to be full-go by spring.
How have you been feeling through practices?
I’m feeling great. It’s coming along. Being involved more. They’re just getting me prepared going into spring ball. Things are going well. My body’s feeling amazing and all my hard work is finally coming along. I’m just waiting for my time to come.
Is there a mental block you have to get over once you get back to full contact?
It’s just all about correcting my technique when I go to make a tackle. Keeping my head up, taking the extra step. I don’t even think about it. I put that behind me. I’m just moving forward. … Once I begin to practice more, get involved in contact, I’ll be able to get my confidence back and just work.
Was your family worried about letting you even return to football?
I know my mom was concerned a bit, but she knows how much I love this game. It can’t be taken away from me. It was my decision, honestly. My family said it was my decision. I’m just thankful to have that support from Bruin Nation, my coaches, the doctors here. I’m just thankful of them letting me come out here and play.
Does the fear of another major injury still lurk in the back of your head?
Even before the injury, you never know. It’s always a risk playing the game of football. But no. My neck is much stronger. I needed the surgery because my neck was taking so much contact, so much damage and stuff. My neck is actually much better than even before the injury. I just have to build my whole body up from scratch again. Build my core strength. Get my shoulder stability much stronger and my core and everything. It all starts in the weight room.