In fact, Riley has approached July's workout program as if camp was already underway. "Everything is going real good," he said. "I'm picking up everything right, the team is working hard, super-hard. So I'm trying to fit in and do my role."
Riley's role is at the weak-side, or ‘X' receiver in State's designation. There's a bit of irony there because he now holds the former position of Tony Burks, his predecessor both for a year at Mississippi Gulf Coast Comm. College and in 2007 at MSU. Burks worked the weak-side quite well, too, snaring 33 balls (tying with Jamayel Smith for the team-lead) and scoring three touchdowns. So clearly it is a role of responsibility Riley is stepping into, and with any luck he will surpass his eight catches and 68 yards as a rotation receiver last year by mid-September this season.
Yet discussing his personal ambitions for the senior season, Riley utters words that would horrify most of his peers at any level of the game. "I ain't worried about stats," he said. No, the summer heat and an hour's hard work (during their talk his sweat drips onto the interviewer who, in the setting, feels no right to complain) has not rattled Riley. He's entirely sane and serious. "I'm just trying to win."
Whoa, there, a wideout not focused on numbers? Not looking to make highlight shows? This goes against everything the modern-day receiver is supposed to be: self-absorbed and stat-obsessed. Riley insists though that he has expanded his vision of what this game really means.
"Yes sir, we're just trying to win. I'm playing for my quarterback and my team." Now to be entirely honest Riley admits that once upon a time statistics were personally important. "They meant a lot. I tried to get to this level by the numbers, and I did." And now? "Now I'm just trying to play my role." Though, he adds with a grin, if his team keeps winning and putting up points in the process there should be enough attention to go around and the folk that matter will notice how #15 has performed.
And to a man every offensive Bulldog this summer has claimed that they are going to score the ball with more consistency and even a dash of style. Riley is part of the chorus of course. "This year we're a more powerful offense. It's not going to be just the running backs. It's going to be the runners, the receivers, and the tight ends. It's good news!"
There has been one blip of bad, or at least uncomfortable news, for Riley this month. Though he admits it was all his fault. "I've got behind a little bit because I got a nit-picky injury," he said of the throw-and-catch sessions and seven-on-seven challenges the Bulldogs run through after most supervised workout days. Emphasis on the ‘behind' part because, well…
"I strained a butt muscle," said Riley, sheepishly. "I was in the weightroom trying to do too much to get better and I over-did it." At least the setback, so to speak, came from honest effort, and it won't slow Riley down for too much longer. "We're going to get it right."
Getting things right is critical for this wide receiver, who has undisputed talents but as a junior transfer struggled to translate it into production. The root of the challenge was performing up to practice expectations every day, not just showing those flashes of ability one afternoon and going through the motions the next. Fortunately in spring Riley was much sharper, both in his route-running and his intensity.
"This year it's way better," he agreed. "It's just feeling comfortable with what everybody is doing." Not merely comfortable, but on the same proverbial play-book page. Mississippi State's schemes rely as much or more on precision than on simple ability of those involved, and it's taken a year's adjusting all around.
Riley said there is still some August fine-tuning ahead. "I'm working on good communication. With the coaches, with the quarterbacks, and with the team." And that's the case for an offense that following the flush of 2007 success and sees what and where more progress must be made.
"Last year was just a learning year for us. This year we want it more so we're doing it on our own, nobody has to tell us what to do. We're just trying to make this season better than last season. We had a good season last year and we're trying to make this season better."
Riley himself certainly should be better in all aspects. Though again, he downplays private ambitions so much that when asked what he expects to upgrade he says…blocking? Yes, "mostly blocking" since the State scheme starts with a reliable ground attack. And if he happens to be the leading downfield blocker when Anthony Dixon crosses the goal line, Riley feels as rewarded as if he'd scored the ball himself. Still, don't think the wideout group sees themselves only as blockers.
"We'll catch a few this year, more than we did last year!" Riley grinned. "And this year guys like Jamayel will see a lot of double-coverages, so I'm going to try to step up and put the pressure on the defense."
Riley is sky-high about the offensive potential on this team, though when he claims the group could rank "top-ten in the nation" this season maybe that July sun is hitting him a bit hard after all. But he's correct that a lot of pieces have been put into place, even some extra parts at key positions. Like, quarterback.
"Wes (Carroll) is a big-time quarterback now and showing good leadership and we're trying to follow him. Tyson (Lee) is going to be a real good backup quarterback and he works hard, we'll just see how it comes out." In fact Riley is so eager to see how this offense plays out that he can scarcely wait for camp to begin. "I feel it. I wish it was here now!"
Well, Riley and team do have to wait a bit longer for their first practice date. There is one more week of summer workouts scheduled, a brief break, then everybody returns and reports August 2. The next day, it's back on the field and back to full-team work under staff eyes. When, Riley hopes, he hears his name called early and often by those tough-love coaches.
"And sometimes the coaches might tick you off!" he said. "But you still have to give them respect, they're the coach!"