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Former Football: Former Ragin' Cajuns football receiver Al Riles dies at age of 27 - 11/11 Update

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Nov. 10, 2020

Athletic Footnote by Dr. Ed Dugas (athleticnetwork@louisiana.edu)  update for 11/11/2020 is found below the Nov. 10 story.

A GoFundMe account has been established to assist with funeral expenses for Al Riles, a former UL receiver.

Riles was shot and killed Saturday night in Fort Worth, Texas, his mother, Deidre Riles, told The Daily Advertiser on Monday night.

He was 27.

“Unfortunately we were all hit with the heartbreaking news that this beautiful soul is no longer with us,” said a GoFundMe posting by Deidre Riles. “He impacted every life he touched. Had a smile that could light up a room. A laugh that would fill the air with warmth.”

Riles was UL’s leading receiver in 2016 with 60 catches for 729 yards and two touchdowns. He recorded at least one reception in the last 29 consecutive games of his Cajuns career, a streak that started in 2014.

A product of Lakeshore High, Riles also was a vocal leader who was especially close with teammates raised with him in the the Covington and Mandeville area north of New Orleans.

“He brought the toughness to our receiving group, and to the team,” ex-Cajuns receivers coach and offensive coordinator Jorge Munoz told The Advertiser on Sunday night. 

“Back then (linebacker) Otha (Peters) probably was the representative for the defense while Al Riles probably was the representative of the offense, so if something had to be said, something had to be done, if there was an issue within the team, whether it was a bad game or if it was a work-ethic thing, both of those guys would be the ones to address the rest of the team, in a positive way, saying, 'Hey guys, this ain't good enough, we need to step it up.”

Ragin' Cajuns: Football team is nationally ranked again at No. 25 in AP poll

 

The speedy slot receiver was a first team All-Sun Belt Conference pick as a fifth-year senior, and went on to sign as an undrafted free agent with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts in 2017.

“Al had a personality that would light up the room,” former UL running backs and defensive line coach Marquase Lovings told The Advertiser after hearing of Riles’ passing.

Riles was waived by the Colts a month later, before playing for them. Riles also had a mini-camp invitation that year from the Seattle Seahawks, and he worked out for the Green Bay Packers late in 2017. In 2018 he was signed by the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but he was released less than a month later.

Riles is  believed to be the second Cajun from the 2011-17 Mark Hudspeth coaching era, which produced four New Orleans Bowl-winning teams, to die young. In July 2019, defensive back Sean Thomas, a 2014-season senior, tragically died in a two-vehicle accident in St. James Parish. 

Riles debuted for the Cajuns in 2012, when he was limited to three games by a leg injury and ended up taking a medical redshirt.

He played on defense and started five games as a redshirt freshman in 2013, beginning in the secondary before moving to linebacker. He had the Cajuns’ defensive play of the season that year, returning an interception 99 yards for a touchdown at Western Kentucky.

Riles moved to the offensive side of the ball in the spring of 2014, when he started 12 of the 13 games and caught 34 passes for 354 yards including a touchdown in a win at UL Monroe.

He followed that up with 46 catches for 477 yards and a career-high four TDs as a redshirt junior in 2015.

“He (Riles) brings a toughness to that (receivers) room,” Munoz said in 2016.

“Hard-nosed guy. Works his tail off. We need that in that room, because most receivers are a little bit soft sometimes. They don’t like to block; they don’t like to get hit. ... He’s the complete opposite."

In 2015, Riles said he had “a bond that can’t be broken,” with childhood friend Peters Jr., who played for the Washington Redskins in 2017 and now is with the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Halftime adjustments helped UL overcome sleepy start, shaky play-calling

The two were teammates with the Raiders, Cowboys, Vikings and, their favorite, the Chargers, in the Covington Recreation Department’s youth football league.

“We picked up our first football together, since we were 6,” Riles said in 2016.

“We grew up together, and we’ve done everything together, so when he (Peters) was looking to transfer (from Arkansas) he gave me a call ... and I told him, ‘This is the best place you want to be; you want to be close to home, to family, you want to ball with your bro.'”

Riles’ words helped lure Peters to UL.

“I could have gone to bigger places than this,” Peters said, also in 2015. “But I just … feel like I’ve got the talent, I’ve got what it takes to go to the next level (the NFL); why not come home and ball with some of my homeboys like Al (Riles) and Jamal (Robinson) and people I’ve been knowing for years?”

According to his 2016-season UL bio, Riles was the son of David and Diedra Blanchard; he had two sisters, Jamie Riles, who ran track for Tulane, and Tiquanna Blanchard.

“We lost a friend, a brother, a daughter lost her father, and a mother lost her son,” the GoFundMe page established in Riles' honor said. “A life gone too soon! He accomplished so much but was determined to do so much more and that was taken from him.

“As we continue to keep his friends and family in our prayers please also consider donating to help the family with the cost of funeral expenses and whatever else the family needs. They are grateful for whatever you can give.”

Contributing: Ashley White

Backup kicker helps UL beat Arkansas State in a close one

* * * * * *
11/11/2020 Update

Former UL receiver Riles gone too soon: 'They took his life out of foolishness'
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Nov. 11, 2020

What hurts Deidre Riles so much is the way her son died.

Al Riles, 27, was shot and killed Saturday night in Fort Worth, Texas, according to his mother, Deidre Riles.

A Ragin’ Cajuns football player from 2012-16, he was UL’s leading receiver as a fifth-year senior.

“I found out (Monday) that he went to talk to one of his friends about something,” Deidre Riles told The Daily Advertiser, “and they argued. … Not nothing serious – too serious – you know?

“And another guy was out there in the car. A couple of guys. … Well, they supposedly got out of the car, another guy supposedly got out of the car, and he shot my son. He shot my son while he was on the ground tussling with this other guy. He shot him.”

The office Tarrant County (Texas) Medical Examiner confirmed Riles’ death for The Daily Advertiser on Wednesday morning, citing homicide as the manner and a gunshot wound to the chest as the cause.

“The sad part about it is he also was a friend – was supposed to be a friend – of my son, you know? It’s horrible,” Deidre Riles said with reference to the alleged shooter. “It’s horrible, because he lost his lost life to people that he helped.”

Therein lies the irony.

More:The Ragin' Cajuns football team is nationally ranked again at No. 25 in AP poll

Eric Treuil, a UL campus minister, was devastated too.

Chaplain for the football program, Treuil fondly remembers Riles not just for his many catches but more so as a team peacekeeper.

“He’s the guy who could always negotiate between players who were upset with each other,” Treuil said, “and get everybody to focus on the common enemy – the other team – and not be fighting amongst themselves.

“Al was that kind of guy that brought some life, brought some good juice, to the team. Even post-graduation, when Al would come to the complex, come to games, (he was) always a joy to see, a joy to be around.”

Which is why Treuil said he was “really heartbroken by this young man leaving us way, too, too soon.”

Cajuns coach Billy Napier:'We’ll continue to be aggressive on fourth down'

Current UL tight ends coach Michael Desormeaux was Riles’ position coach in 2016, when the Cajuns had a group of mostly young receivers.

“Al was, without a doubt, the Alpha in that room,” said Desormeaux, a former Cajuns quarterback. “It was apparent early on. … He had a great year that year, but I think the biggest thing he did was he was the glue.

“That year was really up and down as far as wins and losses went. A lot of things were happening. And he was really the liaison between myself and the younger players, and he did a really good job of relaying my message and keeping the room on-board.”

'The chain in the family'

Deidre Riles fondly recalled her son while speaking by telephone from his apartment in Dallas, where he lived after a bid to play pro football – he briefly was signed by the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts in 2017 and the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2018 – ran dry.

The owner of a graduate degree in criminal justice from UL, Riles was in Texas chasing another passion.

More:NFL teams sign ex-Cajuns Riles, Peters

“Al loves to cook,” his mother said.

Deidre was in on a secret kept from other relatives: He was attending culinary school. An A-student, according to Mom, scheduled to graduate next month.

Desormeaux, who spoke with Riles at length this past summer, was in on the secret too.

“He sounded really excited about life and what was ahead of him, and had a really good plan for it,” Desormeaux said. “I was so excited to hear from him, because you always think football is your way.

“It ends, and it’s hard, and Al went through that. We all went through that. But … he found something he was passionate about again.”

Each Sunday, Riles would prepare a dish or meal and present it for class online.

“He was cooking every weekend,” Deidre said. “He showed me, ‘Mama, look what I done made.’ ”

Deidre jokes that Al – the father of a 5-year-old daughter – was in competition with his sister Jamie Riles, a former Tulane track athlete who holds two degrees of her own.

“Al was like the chain in the family. He kept everybody linked. He kept everybody getting along,” she said. “He was a positive vibe. Always. He always kept me on my toes. He never wanted to see his mother upset.”

'I'm going with the Cajuns'

Football was Riles’ first love.

“It was in his heart,” Deidre said.

The Lakeshore High product played ball since he was 6 and was a teammate in his Covington youth league with best friend Otha Peters Jr., a former Arkansas, UL and Washington Redskins linebacker now with the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Teammates celebrate with late Ragin' Cajuns receiver Al Riles (2) after a score against Texas State in 2015 at Cajun Field.

Deidre remembers Al being recruited by UL and what he told her when he decided to sign.

“ ‘They’re red,’ ” he said, “ ‘I’m going with the Cajuns.’ ”

Red.

His favorite color. UL’s too.

More:Ex-Cajuns defensive back Thomas dies in vehicle crash

More:Ragin' Cajun coaches mourn loss of UL assistant Looney

'They took his life'

Much like chaplain Treuil, former Cajuns offensive coordinator Jorge Munoz – Riles’ position coach for part of their time together – remembers Riles and Peters taking team leadership in their hands.

“It was a positive message,” Munoz said, “about ‘Guys, let’s bring this team together. We’ve got to work harder. Big week for us.’ ”

Now Cajun supporters are being asked to come together for Riles.

Organized by a family friend and approved by Deidre Riles, a GoFundMe campaign he been set up to help raise money for Riles’ funeral and related expenses.

He had no insurance, according to his mother.

“Al had a little girl that he loved with all of his heart,” Desormeaux said.

“At 27 years old your life is really getting started, and it’s magnified when you leave people behind, especially children that depend on you. It’s heartbreaking breaking, really.”

Funeral arrangements were incomplete as of late Monday, when Deidre Riles was still in Texas dealing with the reality her son was gone.

She said she planned to speak with a Fort Worth Police Department detective Tuesday and was hopeful a suspect would soon turn himself in to authorities.

Fort Worth police said Monday they were investigating a shooting that occurred Saturday and that “Upon arrival officers located a male victim with an apparent gunshot wound to his upper torso.”

“The victim was transported to an area hospital for medical treatment,” the department said, “but did not survive his injuries and was pronounced deceased at the hospital.”

The Fort Worth case is that of Riles, records obtained from the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s office show.

The police department’s homicide unit had no updates on the case Tuesday, a Fort Worth police spokesman said. 

Meanwhile, Deidre Riles is left trying to make sense of how someone remembered for helping those he loved most stay together – teammates, family – has been taken away.

“You know,” she said, “Al helped a lot of people since he’s been in Dallas, because of lot of them guys needed help.

“But they took his life. They took his life out of foolishness.”

What we learned: UL Ragin' Cajuns 27, Arkansas State Red 20

More:UL beats Arkansas State in a close one

More:Halftime adjustments helped UL overcome sleepy start, shaky play-calling




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