Friday Night Hero: A.L. Brown's Travis Riley
By Mike London
KANNAPOLIS ó His grades come in As and Bs. His rushing yardage comes in 10s and 20s.
"The Train" is rolling.
A.L. Brown junior Travis Riley seems embarrassed by the nickname, but his teammates like it. He grudgingly accepts it like he'd accept a flu shot.
It's not a bad nickname as he has much in common with locomotives. The Wonders' powerful tailback is 200 pounds of steel, coming fast and coming hard enough to crack shoulder pads.
Riley is right at 1,000 rushing yards. Twenty times in seven games his destination has been the end zone.
Last Friday, in a 61-7 wipeout of Cox Mill, Riley should have yelled, "All aboard!" He dragged two Chargers 20 yards down the tracks. He finished with 211 yards on 13 carries.
On Brown's first snap, the line opened a hole to accommodate an 18-wheeler. Riley roared 65 yards. A flag brought it back. No problem. Next snap, he went 48.
"The line was blocking," Riley said. "We just ran the play again. It was all good."
Riley was introduced to football at age 6. He was the quarterback. Then he grew into a linebacker.
Now he's "The Train."
Still, at A.L. Brown, where the football program is enjoying its 32nd straight winning season, dues must be paid.
Riley started his sophomore year on the jayvees before moving up. His varsity stats were 63 carries for 363 yards. The last of his nine TDs came in the fourth round of the playoffs, but he was injured as the Wonders beat Kings Mountain. He missed the 3AA state championship loss to Dudley.
"That hurt because the state championship is what you work all year for," Riley said. "That's why I try so hard to win ballgames now. I want to get back."
Riley strives to be just one of the guys. He thanks everyone who's ever helped him rush for an inch.
When he moves to fullback and is asked to block, he doesn't shy away from contact. No one blows up a linebacker quite like Riley.
The equipment guys say Riley is "polite and respectful." Coaches describe him as "a great teammate."
There are rumors that after practice he helps old ladies cross Main Street and rescues cats from trees, but those stories have yet to be verified.
What coaches will swear to in court is that Riley's brains and desire match his physical talent. He understands his gift. He spent last summer doing what all Wonders do, getting faster and stronger, but he did extra.
"I worked hard on my speed with lots of squats, lunges and stretches," Riley said. "Our very first game this year, I could tell I was faster. So much faster, I kind of surprised myself."
He ran a 4.68 in the 40-yard dash at Wake Forest's camp over the summer. He's quicker now.
"Travis has an intrinsic drive and a great work ethic," running backs coach Scott Jordan said. "He gets downhill fast. He wants the ball, but he still plays within himself."
Prior to this season, Jordan asked his backs for a list of their personal goals.
Riley turned in two words ó "state championship."
"This is an awesome kid," Jordan said. "Go through the student body and you won't find one person with something bad to say about him. Every kid wants accolades, and Travis will get some, but he'll keep it in perspective."
Jordan says if the 6-foot Riley keeps grinding he'll make a fine Saturday player.
If he makes another jump this summer like his last one, Saturdays may not be the end of the line.
"The Train" is rolling.