UL receiver Riles producing in more ways than one

Tim Buckley

It’s one of those chicken-or-egg things.

Junior slot receiver Al Riles is producing more, so the UL football team is turning to him more and more. Or is that the Ragin’ Cajuns are turning to him more, so Riles is producing more and more?

Ultimately, the answer may not matter.

What does is that he and the 4-5 Cajuns seem to have a good thing going lately, so expect to see plenty of Riles as UL embarks on the final three games of its 2015 regular season beginning with Saturday’s visit from 2-7 New Mexico State.

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“He’s one of those guys that is a huge difference-maker, whether he’s got the ball in his hands or he doesn’t,” Cajuns quarterback Brooks Haack said.

“He’s one of those guys that if we get it to him, he’s gonna run very, very physical and try to wear down the defense. And he runs great routes.

“We found that out (against Georgia State) when we hit a couple of times across the middle,” Haack added, “and I think we’re incorporating a little bit more each and every week.”

Riles had a career-high nine catches for 98 yards and one touchdown in an October home win over Texas State, then followed that up three games later with eight catches for a career-high 103 yards in a Nov. 7 win at Georgia State in Atlanta.

He had five catches for 57 yards in UL’s loss last Thursday night at South Alabama, but his mere presence – the threat Riles has established himself to be – also opened things up elsewhere in the Cajun air game.

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“No defense can just key on one player, because we have talent all around,” wideout Jamal Robinson, who had a career-high 10 catches for a career-high 188 yards and one touchdown at South Alabama, said when asked about Riles this week. “So somebody’s gonna get the ball, regardless.”

If it’s Riles, so be it.

It it’s someone else, that’s fine with him too, because all the Lakeshore High product wants to do is win.

When UL was struggling at halftime of an eventual Halloween night win over in-state rival UL Monroe, it was Riles who spoke to the Cajun offense after his childhood buddy and former youth-league football teammate from back in Covington – linebacker Otha Peters – gave the defense an earful.

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“We just were speaking what we felt, what we were experiencing,” Riles said.

“We were both out there going through the same thing everybody else was going through, so I guess it just meant more instead of just hearing it from a coach.”

Thinking like a coach, Riles is baffled as to why the Cajuns haven’t fared better in 2015.

After four straight 9-4 seasons, the best UL can now finish this year is 8-5.

“I know we have a lot of building to do,” Riles said. “But at the beginning of the season, I didn’t really expect it.

“I felt pretty strong about us. I felt we were going to a good direction, and this was going to be a good year for us. But, you know, everything happens for a reason.”

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The reason Riles has been incorporated in UL’s offense in more ways than one seems to be that he simply gets things done.

After starting his Cajun career as a linebacker/defensive back, he changed sides and is now thriving in the slot.

His team-high 37 catches for 397 yards and three touchdowns are three more than he had in 2014, and four more than next-closest Robinson.

Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth knows the numbers stem from opportunity, and – no matter how it started – thinks turning to Riles with frequency is bound to prove productive.

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“We’re just getting him the ball,” Hudspeth said. “And he just needed some opportunities with the football.

“There have been times when we have not done a good job of getting him the ball. But when you get Al involved, he’s pretty effective, whether it’s the jet sweeps, running the ball, whether it’s in the passing game.

“So, I’ve been really proud of Al and his leadership and his work ethic,” Hudspeth added, “and I’m glad he’s a big part of this offense.”

Cajuns wide receiver Al Riles (2), shown here breaking away from tacklers during a 2015 win over Texas State at Cajun Field, may return from an ankle sprain to play Saturday.