Elijah Riley is hoping to be the next graduate of West Point to play in the National Football League.
The senior Army defensive back announced Sunday that he intends to enter his name into the 2020 NFL Draft pool.
In a tweeted message, Riley said, “This is the beginning of turning my lifelong dreams into a reality and it does not stop here. I am more than excited for the journey that lies before me.”
Although Riley used the word “declaration” in his statement, it is now unnecessary for any Service Academy senior to “declare” their intentions for a career in pro sports. In June, President Donald J. Trump signed an order allowing graduates of Service Academies to play pro sports before fulfilling their two-year active-duty military requirement. It allows athletes to defer their military obligations until after their professional sports careers are over, if they receive approval from the Secretary of Defense.
While Army’s record this season was not up to the recent standards the Black Knights have set, Riley still had an impressive campaign and established himself as one of the top defensive backs in the country. He was third on the team in tackles with 79, and led Army in tackles-for-losses (eight), sacks (four), interceptions (three), pass breakups (six) and forced fumbles (three). Riley also blocked a kick (in the Army-Navy game) and recovered a fumble in 2019.
The 6-foot product of Port Jefferson, New Jersey might be listed as a corner, but he was all over the field for the Black Knights’ defense.
Across his career at Army, Riley totaled 201 tackles, 17.5 tackles for losses, 6.5 sacks, seven interceptions, 28 pass break-ups and two touchdowns in 44 games.
If Riley is drafted in April, he’ll be the first Army product to hear his name called since 2008, when the Detroit Lions selected defensive back Caleb Campbell in the seventh round.
While he wasn’t drafted, Alejandro Villanueva is the most recent example of a former Army player having success in the NFL. He came to West Point as a defensive lineman, converted to wide receiver, and has now been playing offensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers for the past five seasons. Villanueva has twice been named to the Pro Bowl and hasn’t missed a start since 2015.
Former Army offensive lineman Brett Toth played with the Eagles this past preseason and then signed with the Cardinals, but never appeared in a regular season game in 2019.
Riley has also accepted an invite to play in the East-West Shrine Bowl, where he’ll get the chance to showcase his talents in an all-star game in front of pro scouts. Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry is also listed on the East roster for the Shrine Bowl.
The game will be played Saturday, Jan. 18 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. It will be aired on NFL Network, beginning at 3 p.m. ET.