Receiver Jimmy Riley of Ursuline was among 20 area standouts to sign Wednesday.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Jimmy Riley dropped one ball during the past three years for the Ursuline High football team. He wasn't about to drop the ball on his future.
When his team needed a key play, Irish coach Jim Vivo, who attests to Riley's uncanny ability to make the catch, went to his 6-foot-2, 190-pound receiver.
Riley is that reliable, and that's why the University of Louisville sought him. He signed a letter of intent Wednesday to play for the Division I Cardinals, members of Conference USA.
Asked if he really dropped one pass in three years, Riley said, "I'm gonna say that's pretty accurate. Probably."
Brandon Brown joined Riley as Ursuline's other signed player. A 6-2, 225-pound defensive end, Brown committed to Youngstown State.
Area group: In all, 20 area prep football standouts signed with Div. I or I-AA schools Wednesday.
"A lot of people say I'm not that fast," Riley said, "but my biggest asset is that I'm able to catch the ball in clutch situations and do something after it."
The logic was simple for Riley in Ursuline's offense.
"I wasn't allowed to drop the ball or I had to do 20 push-ups," he said. "I didn't like push-ups too much."
When asked of Riley's most memorable catch, Vivo singled out one that came in the 2000 Division IV state title game against Coldwater at Canton's Fawcett Stadium.
"We were losing 10-7," Vivo recalled. "Josh Swogger threw him a post [pattern], and [Riley] went up with two or three guys around him and made the catch."
Scoring position: The second-quarter play netted around 50 yards and put the Irish in position to score.
"That gave us momentum -- we scored there -- and we took the lead and never relinquished it," said Vivo, whose team defeated Coldwater 49-37.
Riley said, "Before we broke the huddle, I told Josh, 'Just throw it up. I'll make sure I get it.' "
Riley's catch was symbolic of the type of receiver he is.
"He'll fit right in with Louisville. He'll probably be an inside receiver," Vivo said. "He'll be a great possession receiver. He runs great routes and gets open. He jumps well, plus he's a big kid. His best days are ahead of him."
Led SVC: Despite an offense that featured 1,000-yard running backs Terrence Graves and Delbert Ferguson and the continued growth of sophomore quarterback Darryl Clark, Riley still led the Steel Valley Conference in receiving.
A Campbell native, Riley had 34 catches for 768 yards and seven touchdowns last season for the Irish.
Riley chose Louisville for the football program, but more importantly for its academic strengths, he said.
"They made me feel like they were my parents, because that's what my parents stressed," Riley said. "In our household, if you didn't get your schoolwork done, you couldn't do anything."
Riley plans to study political science and one day work in the FBI or CIA.
"One day I just decided to do something to help our country, with all that's been going on," said Riley, referring to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Favors the pass: Riley was also smart enough to choose a football program that would favor the pass. He doesn't yet know the capacity in which the Cardinals will use him, but he plans to benefit by his freshman experience anyway.
Brown's decision was delayed slightly because he didn't take the ACT until December, Vivo said. But Youngstown State continued its pursuit and got Ursuline's career leader in sacks (33).
"I wanted to stay close to my family," said Brown, a Youngstown native who plans to major in criminal justice and contribute to the Penguins' pass rush.