NORTH PORT — North Port had a built-in advantage going into its Week 4 against Lakewood Ranch.
It seems the undefeated Mustangs had no game film to study on new Bobcats’ quarterback Kevin Riley, who, surprisingly, was making his high school debut.
The junior, who moved to North Port from Booker High School this summer, didn’t join the team until after school started when the coaching staff noticed him in classes.
Before long, the 5-foot-9, 140-pound dual threat quarterback was already affecting the Mustangs’ defensive scheme.
Running the read-option, whether Riley pulled it out of the gut of running back Jeff Terry or not, the defense keyed on him and had to respect his athleticism. The result was a dynamic rushing attack totaling 220 yards and three touchdowns between the two. Riley finished with 115 yards on 15 carries with two scores.
“The line can block better because they aren’t just keying on one person, they’re keying on like three,” Terry said. “He’s really quick and agile, so when he got to the middle of the field he just took off. He helped us out and helped me get a lot more rushing yards.”
Riley didn’t appear to be rattled despite making his first high school start. He’s been put in some difficult spots in the last two weeks.
His first game was a 42-35 overtime loss, his second was a 67-0 blowout loss against a Tampa juggernaut. So far, he’s embraced the challenges. That’s a result of the coaching staff’s patience and his relaxed mindset.
“The coaching staff has been awesome in helping me get better on and off the field,” Riley said. “I’m always thinking we can win this game if we just push harder. It only makes me want to work harder. I feel pretty confident.”
There was a four-year gap in football for Riley, who hadn’t played since Pop Warner and didn’t have intentions of playing this year. But eventually, the staff got him onto the practice field.
He was far behind in terms of learning the offense and wasn’t able to play until he got in his mandatory number of practices per the FHSAA. But as a natural leader, Riley began lifting the team on the sidelines, knowing he couldn’t help them physically yet.
“We didn’t even know about him until we got into school,” North Port coach Brian Hatler said. “He’s got good leadership qualities and he’s intelligent. He’s been able to pick up things very quickly. The offense is similar (to what they’ve run before), but we’ve changed a few things to get the ball in his hands.”
Riley has proven to be a threat on the ground, but the Bobcats don’t typically open up the passing game. He’s hoping to be viewed as a true dual threat by working on his throwing.
His cool demeanor and desire to be well-rounded goes back to when his dad, who played linebacker in his day, would take his Riley and his brother into the back yard to work on their craft.
“My dad was always a cool guy,” Riley said. “He liked to hit. He used to take us in the back and help us practice — me doing my quarterback drills and my brother playing defense as well. (My passing ability) is pretty good, but it could be a little bit better. With a little more work, it’ll be a threat.”
In order to progress, it’s important for Riley to look back on his good and bad plays throughout the season. It’s a responsibility he takes seriously and will be significant in his hopeful ascent as the North Port quarterback.
“I most definitely thought I could’ve made a couple of changes, I made some mistakes (against Lakewood Ranch),” Riley said. “We have to be more mentally prepared. I expect for us to play hard in every game for the rest of this season.”