All Riley-ed Up

Rookie orientation camp was a different world altogether for several hopefuls. While most of the players at Murphy Canyon had already signed undrafted free agent contracts, a few were there on a tryout basis. They had not yet become San Diego Chargers. Justin Riley was one of those players and after a weekend in action the coaching staff was excited by what they saw and quickly signed the linebacker.

While other players signed contracts without ever playing for the Chargers, Justin Riley had to prove he belonged. He had three days to do that coming down to camp on a Friday in May. Shortly thereafter he made his mark and came away happy with his choice to come down to San Diego.

"I am glad to get the opportunity to come and play football," Riley said.

Riley was a man of many positions, none of which were necessarily where he was best suited. Riley spent time at defensive end, outside linebacker and anywhere in between.

Playing in a 4-3 for Ball State, Riley came away with 83 tackles as a senior and his best position may have been inside in a traditional 4-3.

"I was the linebacker on the strong side," Riley said. "In passing situations though, I was the rush end."

And now that he enters the 3-4, Riley is projected as an outside linebacker that can also rush the quarterback. As a junior he led his team in sacks, albeit with a meager three behind a terrible defensive line.

As a senior he had seven tackles for loss, two sacks, one interception and two pass breakups in 2003.

It earned him a trip to the Hula Bowl, a postseason All-Star game. It also marked the first time ever that a player from Ball State was chosen to play in the Maui Classic, a game his team won 26-7.

"I was the first player ever," Riley confirmed. That's what everybody was telling me. It was really a big honor.

"First of all, there have been a lot of great athletes to come out of Ball State. I did not know I was the first one ever to go. I only had about 3 or 4 tackles. Mainly they threw the ball."

All the accolades mean nothing now. He went from a leader on the Ball State defense to just another rookie in camp.

Riley is currently in San Diego working out in the training sessions being held by the team.

"We are doing off season training. Yeah, I am doing that right now. Having practice, lifting, and running … training camp."

He has latched on another player who had to tryout before getting a contract, Ty Myers, and rookie fourth round pick Shaun Phillips. Both are linebackers that project to play the same type of position that Riley is fighting for. They will be helping each other out through camp. Better to be friends than enemies. He also knows Michael Turner very well. He dropped Turner for a six yard loss in a game back in November of 2003.

Riley looked at rookie orientation camp and the whole process with unexpected candor.

"I just feel lucky to be here," Riley admitted. "I told my agent, ‘give me an opportunity.' That's how I feel, just give me an opportunity. There are a lot of players that don't get a crack at it."

A weekend gave him a crack. Now and through training camp he has to tear that crack open and make it a hole, a hole he will collapse and tackle.

Denis Savage can be reached at

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