DREAM ACHIEVED: Riley makes Citadel football team

Lee Riley, long snapper  (photo courtesy Marjorie Maxon photography)

Lee Riley, long snapper (photo courtesy Marjorie Maxon photography)

Former CPA and CCHS standout Lee Riley has landed on The Citadel’s football team as a long-snapping specialist after taking more than a year off from the sport.

By DREW TRIPP The Press & Standard 8/14/14

Divine intervention, happy accident, plain old good luck — the how’s or why’s of achieving a lifelong dream aren’t important to Lee Riley. He’s too busy relishing the joy of becoming a college football player. Riley, a former standout player for both Colleton Prep and Colleton County High School, has made The Citadel’s football team as a walk-on transfer, penciled in already as the team’s second-string long snapping specialist entering his first season.

Son of legendary former local coach Leroy Riley, Lee Riley took a rather off-beat route to becoming a college athlete, one that involved spending more than a year off the gridiron and first attending a college that doesn’t even have a football team. He dreamt of a college career, and worked toward that goal throughout high school, but as his senior year wound down, Riley says, no great opportunities or offers had materialized.

“I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do,” Riley said. “I was still kind of in a deciding phase at the end of my senior year, and I was thinking I would never play football again. I thought really hard, and visited a couple small colleges. A lot of them were really far off, though, and I think part of my problem was I didn’t want to travel too far from home for school. I eventually chose not to do anything with it.”

Riley soon found out he wasn’t immune to the bug that seems to hit all former players when they’re around a football field again for the first time after what was supposed to be their last game. He missed it.

“I came back to some of my little brother’s games, and it really hit me then,” said Riley, who chose to attend the University of South Carolina’s satellite campus in Bluffton with some high school friends as a freshman. “I had taken a couple of months off and thought I was done. Then I realized I missed it a lot, and it started getting to me.”

Riley decided to transfer to the The Citadel, where he decided he would continue his pursuit of a collegiate football career. The transfer went smoothly from an academic standpoint, but Riley was left floating without a paddle regarding his ambitions of returning to the football field. “I was thinking it was too late for me to do anything with football when I changed my mind and decided to go to The Citadel,” Riley said. “But I figured if I gave it a shot, anything was possible.”

That’s where his story takes a turn for the fortuitous. A chance encounter between former CCHS kicker Stewart Bailey and longtime Colleton County kicking instructor Carol White led to Riley’s name, transfer and plans to pursue football at The Citadel being mentioned. White then contacted him, Riley said, to make sure he was serious about his desire to play football, and later put in a word for him with coaches at The Citadel. It just so happened the Bulldogs would be down to only one long snapper on the roster for the next season and were looking to add another.

And so the tumblers all fell into place, suddenly unlocking for Riley the door to a future in football. His plan, he says, was to try out this fall and wish for the best, hoping maybe he could catch on at any available position, but with no guarantees he’d make the team.

“It’s almost a miracle how it worked out,” Riley said. “They really needed another snapper. Good thing I can long-snap, or I probably wouldn’t be where I am right now.” Long-snapping was something Riley specialized in during his sophomore and junior seasons at Colleton County High, but he didn’t snap as a senior at Colleton Prep because of injuries to both his shoulders, he says. As such, he was more than a little rusty when he began working on the skill again in December.

Since then, he says, he’s spent several hours a day a few times a week practicing either with White, by himself or with his college roommates to get back in shape and refine his form. Riley says he still needs to improve his consistency before the season starts. The Citadel begins its season Aug. 30 at Johnson-Hagood Stadium against Coastal Carolina.

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