Parkston native Riley Reiff a potential first-round NFL draft pick
Riley Reiff is self-driven.
The Parkston native and University of Iowa left tackle has proven that throughout his football career, starting from the early years when he put on a helmet and pads and now on his path to the NFL.
"Whether it was my freshman year in high school or in college, I just wanted to play and I knew I could," said Reiff, a junior in college who declared for April's NFL Draft last month. "I always had aspirations of playing at the next level and making it to the next level."
As an offensive lineman, Reiff has quietly shined as a college athlete in a position that almost never scores a touchdown or makes flashy plays. He's lived in the trenches, blocking for his teammates and earning them attention.
But his will to continuously get better is about to pay dividends. Even before declaring for the draft, Reiff's name was being discussed as a potential first-round pick.
As of Thursday, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay projected Reiff being picked third by the Minnesota Vikings. Also this week, Reiff was ranked the eighth-best college football player in the country by Scouts Inc., an ESPN company that evaluates talent in professional and amateur sports.
Last year, there were three offensive lineman selected in the top 20 picks of the first round. They all signed four-year contracts worth a total of least $8.5 million and received signing bonuses of around $5 million.
On the year's biggest football weekend, Reiff will likely be watching the Super Bowl knowing he's only months away from playing in the same league.
"He's played very well for us," Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz said. "But his best football is ahead of him."
Riley's father, Tom Reiff, swears he had no idea Riley was any different than any other player early in his football career.
Riley was the second of four children of Tom and Jo Reiff, who still work and reside in Parkston. Riley has an older sister, Nikki, and two younger brothers, Eric and Brady.
When Riley was in the third grade, Tom Reiff was an assistant coach for the Parkston varsity football team. Riley was a student manager.
By the time Riley was a seventh-grader, it was becoming clear he was going to be a standout.
"He was a big kid for his age, and he had pretty good speed," Tom Reiff said. "He got to move up to the freshman team in his eighth-grade year. You normally never get to do that."
As a freshman, Reiff started as a defensive end for Parkston. That year, the Trojans went 6-4 and knocked off unbeaten Stickney/Mount Vernon 22-8 in the first round of the Class 11B playoffs.
Reiff's high school coach, Jon Mitchell, said someone that young starting on the varsity was an extreme oddity.
"When he was playing junior varsity, he was already denting people then," said Mitchell, who retired as Parkston's head football coach in 2007, Reiff's final football season. "He stepped right in to the varsity as a freshman and was already making a name for himself."
As a sophomore and junior, Reiff was a blocking tight end and a defensive end.
Reiff's high school teammate and close friend Jeremy Sudbeck was the quarterback for the Trojans. Sudbeck and Reiff graduated together in 2008, but a memory during their sophomore years still sticks out to Sudbeck.
During a one-sided game in which Parkston was trailing, Mitchell called a run play on a third-and-long. In the huddle, Sudbeck and Reiff listened to the upperclassmen complain and argue to change the play call to a pass, but Reiff spoke up.
"Finally, he just stepped in and said, 'The play was called. Let's run the play,' " Sudbeck said. "With him being an underclassman and talking up to the juniors and seniors, he just stepped in and said 'no.' It was dropped then, and we ran the draw play. He really showed that leadership at an early age."
"He leads by example and his work ethic is unbelievable," Sudbeck added. "It was his way of showing his leadership, a quiet and calm sort of way. Just a 'shut-up and do it' sort of attitude."
Reiff was a three-time all-state selection, but his high school teams never made a state championship game. In the four-year run when Reiff was playing, the Trojans' best season was his sophomore year. That season, Parkston went 8-3 but lost in the state semifinals to eventual champion Aberdeen Roncalli.
"I was a bigger kid and went out and did what I could do," Reiff said. "I just did the best that I could as hard as I could."
As a senior, Reiff was moved to the middle linebacker position, a spot that's known as the leader of the defense.
When his name started to draw attention, Reiff had up to 20 colleges looking at his talents. That included Iowa and the University of Nebraska, the final two schools he considered. As a junior in high school, he was 6-foot-6 and about 220 pounds. Today, he's listed on Iowa's athletics website as 6-foot-6, 300 pounds.
"When the recruiting part came, we had a mailbox in town, and some days it wasn't big enough," Tom Reiff said.
Reiff finished his high school football career with 261 tackles, 23 sacks, eight interceptions and countless blocks that paved the way for touchdowns. He also caught 27 passes for 321 yards and nine touchdowns.
As a senior, he was named the South Dakota Gatorade Player of the Year.
"He was one big rumbler, and he didn't just block one guy, he blocked two or three," Mitchell said. "On the other side of the coin, when he was a tackler, he usually took the blocker and the ball carrier."
As dominant as he's shown to be between the white-painted lines, Reiff was just as intimidating on the wrestling mat in high school.
"I realized when I was younger that I could do anything I wanted to if I put my mind to it," Reiff said. "It started back in wrestling as young as second grade. I knew I was strong enough and I had good people around me."
Reiff was a three-time state champion, and he didn't even wrestle in his senior year. Instead, he was healing from a hand injury he suffered in football.
After finishing fifth in the varsity state tournament as an eighth-grader, Reiff lost one match in the rest of his high school career. As a freshman, he lost to Garretson standout Tyler Sorenson 12-1. That year, Sorenson was a senior who went on to wrestle collegiately for South Dakota State University.
Reiff won the 215-pound state high school title as a freshman and a sophomore. He claimed the heavyweight championship as a junior.
When Ferentz recruited Reiff to play football at Iowa, he was even more excited when he realized he was a strong wrestler.
"He's as tough-minded a kid as you're going to find," Ferentz said. "He was a very good high school wrestler, and that's a direct correlation."
Reiff helped Parkston win the state-sanctioned Class B dual tournament in 2004. In 2004 and 2007, the Trojans won the Class B state team tournament. In 2005 and 2006, the school took second place.
In his five-year wrestling career, Reiff finished with 87 pins and had a 144-21 record.
"Wrestling, it helps your conditioning," Reiff said. "The muscles you use for wrestling, they help you in football. It's a totally different sport, but your footwork, the use of your hands and how you use your hips, that all goes into play and helps you out as an offensive lineman."
Career at Iowa
The most memorable season Reiff had at Iowa was his redshirt freshman year, a year when he got his first start and the Hawkeyes rose to No. 7 in the national polls.
Reiff started at left tackle in the Hawkeyes' second game of the regular season in place of Bryan Bulaga, who now plays for last season's Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. In Reiff's first start, Iowa's offense gained 426 yards of total offense, and the Hawkeyes defeated Iowa State 35-3 on the road.
"He actually was a defensive lineman," Ferentz said. "That's where we recruited him at, and it wasn't that things weren't going well. We just thought his upside was on the offensive line."
Before Reiff got any playing time with Iowa, he got into trouble before classes started his first year. He was arrested for public intoxication and led police on a 20-minute foot chase.
"Name me a kid that hasn't stubbed their toe in college or in high school," Ferentz said. "The big thing is Riley learned from it. Ever since that, there hasn't been a problem with him."
The next season was when Reiff got his opportunity.
Bulaga was ruled out for the Iowa State game because of a thyroid condition, and Reiff stepped in.
Reiff started 11 of 13 games in his redshirt freshman year. The Hawkeyes went to the Orange Bowl that season and defeated Georgia Tech 24-14.
"I look at it as it was a chance," said Reiff. "I was going to work my way into the lineup any way. I was real close the whole year, and I never took a day off practice. I wanted to be in the starting lineup. He happened to go down, and it gave me a chance. I took advantage of it."
As a sophomore and a junior, Reiff never missed a start for Iowa, which went to two straight Insight Bowls the past two seasons. Reiff had 13 starts at left tackle as a sophomore and was named to the second-team all-Big Ten list by league coaches and media.
Last season, he had 13 more starts at left tackle. He was named first-team all-Big Ten by league coaches and media. The week after the Hawkeyes lost to Oklahoma in the Insight Bowl, Reiff declared for the draft.
By the time his Iowa football career had ended, he had started 37 games for the Hawkeyes. But it was his freshman year that gave him his big break.
"I thought there was chances (of making the NFL) when I started as a freshman in college," Reiff said. "I have a list of goals that I want to accomplish in my life, and hopefully someday I can check that off."
Getting ready for the NFL
Mock NFL drafts and player projections are abundant during this time of year, and Reiff knows it.
He admitted he's read reports, but he does what he can to avoid getting obsessed with it.
"If I looked at that stuff all the time, I'd go crazy," Reiff said. "I've seen it, and it's all over the place. At the end of the day, I need to worry about the next few weeks and months and work as hard as I can to prepare myself."
Since declaring for the draft, Reiff has been working out in Iowa City, Iowa, at the university's facilities with trainers who have helped him develop his game since becoming a Hawkeye.
Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway shares the same alma mater as Reiff and is a fellow South Dakota native, hailing from Mount Vernon. Greenway attended Iowa from 2001 to 2005 and was a first-round draft pick.
"When you're in the position I was in and that Riley is in, you know your name is going to be called," Greenway said. "It's just a matter of time. ... It's going to be one of the best days of his life and a realization of a dream. It will be a pretty special moment for him."
The two have discussed their football careers, and Greenway said the next couple of weeks of workouts and interviews for pro scouts are some of the most stressful times in a college player's life.
Reiff said he's been accepted to the NFL Combine, which invites 300 of the best college football players to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to showcase their skills in front of NFL scouts.
Greenway said he remembers the skepticism he received after the combine and his pro day workouts about running too slow or having a poor performance.
"I don't care how good you are or bad you are, there's going to be someone who finds a problem with you," Greenway said. "With the combine, everyone wants to get a look at you, wants to get a look at how tall you are, how much you weigh, how you can run and how you can move. This is where all the things people are blessed with or not come out. From what I understand, Riley will measure up just fine. Everything I read has him going in the top 10 picks."
Reiff said he's going to do his best in front of the scouts and patiently wait for the day he gets drafted, which could happen as soon as April 26, the day of the first round.
"I'm looking forward to the NFL, but I haven't made it yet," Reiff said. "I've never played a down and I haven't made it through a practice. With the draft, the cards will fold where they fold. First round, second round, third round, whatever. ... You've got to take what you get and go out and prove yourself."