A second-team All-Metro defensive back last season, Donovan Riley is one of the main reasons Poly's No. 10 football team has allowed only six points during its 3-0 start.
The 6-foot, 192-pound cornerback shuts down receivers. He has five tackles, an interception and three pass breakups while also scoring a pair of touchdowns as a wide receiver.
After a stand-out performance at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl combine in San Antonio in January, the senior received offers from Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Vanderbilt, Cincinnati and Wisconsin. Riley opted to commit early to Virginia Tech, a program that has gone to 18 straight bowl games. He plans to major in biology or sports medicine.
How did you get started playing football?
When I was 5 or 6, my father used to play football on Sunday in a one-touch football league and he played cornerback. I always used to go to him like, "Daddy, Daddy, I want to play. I want to play." He was, "Not now. Not now." When I was about 7, he signed me up for the Reisterstown Mustangs, and I played two years for Reisterstown and I switched leagues and went to Pikesville. I never found my position until coach Wes Johnson put me at wide receiver, corner and defensive end.
What position did you play as a little guy?
I played nose tackle, believe it or not. Nose guard and center. I think I had more fun playing nose guard than center. I used to jump over the center I was so fast. I used to get a running start.
How did that develop into your current position?
When I went to the Pikesville Wildcats, I told them I played nose guard and they didn't believe me. I was fast, so they put me at corner. They saw I could hit, because I was a nose guard. Then the coaches started developing me as a corner.
Do you think playing nose guard helped you be a better defensive back?
Yeah, I think it developed my mindset. My mindset was different when I played nose guard — that nobody was going to block me, and that I was going to make every play. And as a corner, that's how I feel now.
When did football become your passion?
At first, I was a big basketball guy. I used to go watch Michael Jordan. I was at Michael Jordan's last home game, and I touched his hand. When I came here [to Poly], I played basketball, but I found my love for football and I hung my basketball shoes up.
What was it about football that converted you?
You can hit in football. It's legal. I can take a lot of my stress out in football. In basketball, you get fouls or technical fouls for that. In football, you don't.
What makes this Poly defense so stingy?
I think all the players on defense are stingy about the ball. When the ball's in the air, we're calling it. We like to pick everything off. The linebackers, they like to hit everything that comes to them. The corners, they're lockdown. They have the mind set that nobody's going to run deep on them. And the linemen, there's not enough words to describe how physical they are.
What city league team are you most looking forward to playing on?
Dunbar. Their wide receiver, DeonTay McManus, he gives me a lot of work on and off the field. We work out together. I think he's one of the most physical, crafty receivers in the state and I play on him. Working out with him and going against him have bettered my defensive back skills.
What makes the Poly-City football game so special for the players?
It's a one-time thing. You can only play in the game for four years, and you want to win the four years that you attend Poly. There's not enough words to describe how I feel about the game. It's a lot of tension. We could lose all our games, but when it comes to that game, we've got to win it. It has everything to do with bragging rights and school spirit.
Why did you pick Virginia Tech?
Putting the athletics piece aside, the academic support system is tremendous. They really want their players to graduate. … They don't want them to be one-and-done. And the setting of Virginia Tech is a great environment for me, because it's in the middle of nowhere, and that means less distractions, so the only things I should be focused on are my schoolwork and football. Athletics-wise, when I went to the spring game, it felt like Lane Stadium was moving and that was just a spring game.
Why commit so early?
I wanted to enjoy my senior season. I didn't want to have that headache for senior year. I wanted to put everything aside and make my choice and get it over with, so I would know what school I would be signing to in February.
What was it like at the U.S. Army combine in January?
Man, that was probably the greatest combine I've ever been to in my life. The best talent in the country was in San Antonio for that, and for me to go against that talent, it was very competitive. When I went down there, nobody completed a pass on me. They had all the best players in the country, and it really shows why the U.S. Army game is the top bowl game for high school players.
Do you think your performance at the U.S. Army combine put you on the national recruiting map?
Yes I do. When the season was over after the Poly-City game, I took a week off and I had been working for three months before the combine. I think that hard work paid off, so when I went to the combine everything was easy. It was a breeze right through the competition. I showcased my talent. I ran a 4.4 in the 40-[yard dash]. I did well in the shuttles. I did well in the vertical. I did well in all the tests.
One online writer said you had an MVP performance there. What did you think when you read that?
I was pretty excited. When I read that, I was like, "I definitely arrived," and I think my name had gotten across the country.
You spend the offseason working out with some other high-profile players such as Dunbar's DeonTay McManus and Gilman's Cyrus Jones. How did that come about?
We train at a gym, TZ Sports, and it's a coincidence that we all train at the same place. I train with Marco [Jones, a Boys' Latin graduate now at Virginia], and training with him definitely got me ready for the combine. I worked out with Donovan Smith, who goes to Penn State, and I worked on my DB skills with Adrian Amos. That really helped me prepare for top competition in the state like Stefon Diggs, Cyrus Jones and Ian Thomas.
How many Facebook friends do you have?
Probably over 2,000. I don't even go on Facebook anymore. I just check to see who's birthday it is [laughs]. So many people request me as friends. I do talk to the people that I met at college camps and the combines just to check on their seasons, but that's it.
Is it just too time consuming?
Yeah. I'm not going to say Facebook is a distraction, but right now I don't have enough time to be on Facebook all the time when I have to spend more time on my school work.
You've done a lot of self-promotion on the Internet. Do you think that was important to your recruiting process?
Yes. You have to get yourself out there. Just sitting in the chair expecting people to know about you and offers to fall out of the sky and land in your lap — it isn't going to happen. Coaches have to get you out there and you have to do it yourself. You just have to have a lot of people in your corner who want you to be successful and get you out there as well.
When you look at your future, what do you see beyond college football?
Me graduating. Graduating from college and hopefully getting drafted to the NFL or signing a huge contract with my new job.
What do you do for fun when you're not working out?
I'm a movie fanatic, so I go to the movies a lot. I like playing laser tag and paint ball. I like to watch other football games. I'm a huge college football fan. I'm a huge Ravens fan.
What's the best movie you've seen recently?
I really want to see "Lion King 3D" and the Kevin Hart movie, "Laugh at My Pain." I think the best one I've seen in the last month is "Colombiana." It's like "Salt" with Angelina Jolie, but, I think, a little better.
What's your favorite movie of all time?
I have two. "Life" with Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence and "The Lion King."
Why does "Lion King" appeal to you?
It shows how Simba or a character can lose someone that means so much to him in his life, go into a depression and bounce back and become king of the land that his father ruled. That means a lot to me. It shows how self motivated you can be.
Have you lost anyone that close to you?
Coach Wes [Johnson]. He meant a lot to me. He really made me focus on football. He used to call me D-Rizzle after Terrell Suggs, who they call T-Sizzle. He really made me love the game of football. He died about a month ago. A bunch of us went to his memorial. I think he coached half the players in Baltimore City. He was an inspirational coach.