"Deion Branch was running in the backfield, and he cut away from me. I cut with him, my body turned, but my foot did not. I just felt my knee give out, I felt the pops, then came the pain." Riley continued, "I don't even remember seeing them score afterwards, I just remember looking at the scoreboard and they had more points. My adrenaline was rushing, so all I wanted to do was go back out there."
From that point on, Ronnie Riley has been fighting an uphill battle. Three weeks after the initial injury, once the swelling had gone down enough to allow surgery, Ronnie Riley had his MCL repaired, and the ACL was completely replaced. Damage was too severe to repair.
"The surgery was the easiest part. It was the rehab day in and day out that has been very tough. Having to go through all of that has made me stronger mentally." Since last September, Ronnie has been through unspeakable pain to try and get his knee healthy enough to play Division I football again. Just when he thought he had rehabbed it enough to be able to play in spring practice, doctors found abnormal scar tissue around his tendons, which could cause more damage if he participated.
"I was just about done with my rehab, when they found scar tissue in my knee. I had to have surgery again to scope all of it out, clean my knee from the inside. That just delayed the time that I could get out and practice and forget about the injury."
The native Texan who had come in at just over 200 lbs, small for a linebacker in the SEC, always had an uphill battle to face. After years of working out and conditioning, he was not gaining the weight that he needed to be as good as he knew he could be. Finally, just as what happened with Otis this past summer, his body matured, gearing him for his senior year in 2001.
A forced redshirt year has given Ronnie time to study the defense. "I, as well as everyone else on the defense understand things a bit more clearly. I think the defense has a chance to prove itself as one of the best."
With an injury such as the one he suffered, and with almost a year to think about the severity of it, I asked Ronnie if he has any hesitation while reacting to the offense. "The first day when I walked out there I was a bit nervous, but that went away quickly. Once I got in the flow of practice and just playing football, that hesitation went away."
Everyone can see the confidence Ronnie carries with him on the practice field. He does not even wear a brace on the knee that carries a scar 2 inches long and a half inch thick. Although he is confident that the injury is past him, if something were to happen again, would his backup be ready to play?
"Dustin is the man, he has really improved his game, his conditioning is great, and he is still the guy behind me that will lead the defense when I can't be in there."
No matter where Ronnie is, either on or off the field, he is a leader. The will that Ronnie possesses to win may be enough t o push
"I see myself as a leader. I get on the guys if they do something wrong, but I expect that in return. If I do something wrong, I want them to get on me. That communication makes a great defense."
Yes, it does.