NC State redshirt freshman wide receiver C.J. Riley is excited to show what he can do this season.
Riley had a lot of buzz after signing with NC State, but then suffered a season-ending non-contact knee injury before fall camp and redshirted last year. The buzz though was justified for the lanky 6-foot-4, 204-pounder. He clocked 4.64 seconds in the 40-yard dash and had a 35.1-inch vertical jump at the Nike Opening in Miami before his senior season at North Broward Prep in Coconut Creek, Fla.
Rivals.com ranked Riley the No. 98 overall player in the state of Florida in the class of 2016, and a three-star prospect. He caught 40 passes for an impressive 1,047 yards and 13 touchdowns his senior year.
Riley and recruiting classmates Kelvin Harmon (6-3), who did play last year, and Daeshawn Stephens (6-1), who redshirted, continued the Wolfpack’s trend of getting taller wide receivers. Riley’s height is part of a simple philosophy while in high school that he hopes to continue at NC State.
“When the ball is in the air, I want to be the only one to come down with it,” Riley said. “It is like running routes in air [vs. a short cornerback].”
NC State landed Riley in an intense recruitment. He eventually picked the Wolfpack over Nebraska, Duke and Pittsburgh among others. The coach who recruited him now coaches him — wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator George McDonald.
“He has been coaching me up,” said Riley, who is majoring in sports management. “I want to be a coach after football just like Coach McDonald."
Riley was able to do some parts of spring practice, but estimated he was probably 85 percent in March. The knee injury was déjà vu for the Riley family. His mother had torn her ACL while playing basketball in college.
“It was a learning experience because I never sat out, ever in my life,” Riley said. “I learned a lot watching the players.”
Riley said that he was able to learn the plays and kept a keen eye on defensive backs and how they react to various situations. Riley also watches film of some of NFL receivers, including one former legendary performer.
“I pattern my game off of Calvin Johnson,” said Riley about the former Detroit Lions standout. “If I could talk to him, I’d ask him about his releases and how he gets off the press. I’d want to know how he gets into his routes quicker.”
Riley might never be the weight of Johnson, who was 6-5 and 239 pounds, but Riley does want to get up to 215 pounds during his NCSU career. He has added at least 24 pounds since last summer.
“I’ve been doing a lot of work,” Riley said. “I didn’t really lift weights in high school. I just wanted to get bigger and stronger.”
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