During the first week of January each year, the most promising junior football prospects in the country converge on San Antonio for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl combine.
The invitation-only event has long served as a springboard to national notoriety. Last year, Owings Mills’ Donovan Smith went from an unknown offensive tackle to one of the most heavily recruited linemen in the country.
This year, it was Poly defensive back Donovan Riley’s time to turn some heads. The 6-foot, 190-pound prospect earned rave reviews from scouts, including one analyst who thought he had an MVP-worthy performance.
“That was a test of all the hard work I had been doing,” Riley said. “There was great talent from across the country, which I eventually competed against. I ran a good 40 time -- a 4.5 -- and I competed well against some of the top receivers in the country in the 1-on-1 [drills]. I was able to meet a lot of the [best] 2012 football players from across the country and make friends. It was definitely a great experience, which I look forward to again.”A second-team Baltimore Sun All-Metro player in 2010, Riley finished his junior season with 46 tackles and six interceptions, plus 43 receptions for 900 yards and six touchdowns. He also returned two punts for touchdowns. His strong play for the Engineers evidently carried over to his time in Texas.
“When you’re around the guys down there, all the guys you’re competing against give you a thumbs up after the event is over,” Riley said. “They shake your hand and ask where you’re from, compliment your style of play, things like that. It kind of was an exclamation point on what I had already felt. I felt like I really represented all my coaches that had a hand in developing my skills.”
Riley has spent much of his offseason training with several local football prospects, including Dunbar’s DeonTay McManus, Gilman’s Cyrus Jones, Poly’s Jamal Chappell, Calvert Hall’s Da'Quan Davis, Brandon Neverdon and Trevor Williams, and many others. The group works out, competes in 7-on-7 showcases and travels to nearby colleges.
“All of us are kind of sticking together and working out together,” Riley said. “We push each other. We were just at the University of Maryland, a showcase there which was sponsored by Riddell and Rivals. That showcase was very competitive. You had local talent and talent from Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Jersey. It was very, very competitive.”
Riley is still waiting on his first scholarship offer, but several schools have been in close contact, including Boston College, Connecticut, Maryland, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Virginia and Virginia Tech. He’s made unofficial visits to College Park and Charlottesville, and had plans to see Rutgers this month. In March, trips to UConn and Vanderbilt have been planned. Riley said all the schools he’s considering are “great academically,” and have “solid football programs” to match.
“I’m very excited about being on the radar, a lot of college recruiters’ radars,” Riley said. “I enjoy the fact that most of my hard work is paying off to the point where I’m being noticed. I haven’t yet landed my goal, and my goal is to be provided an athletic scholarship. But I’m still working towards it.”
Riley said he hadn’t thought of the similarities between him and Smith, the Penn-State bound lineman from Owings Mills. But Riley, who called Smith “a good friend,” would love to experience a comparable post-combine rise to major college football.
“If I could copy walking that same path and end up where he is, I would be so, so grateful,” Riley said. “I only hope that with my hard work I’m putting in that I have the same results as Donovan Smith, and all the other guys like Marco [Jones] at Boys’ Latin. Those guys work hard. If I could just walk that same path, follow that blueprint and end up where they are, that would be great.”
Update: After this article was published, Riley landed an offer from Virginia Tech, according to Rivals.com.
Baltimore Sun photo of Donovan Riley by Karl Merton Ferron / Nov. 6, 2010