BATON ROUGE, La. — Duke Riley was named the Most Valuable Player on the 2016 LSU football team. And despite the fact he is currently with the Atlanta Falcons, Riley’s value to the Tigers has not diminished.
To a man, members of the 2017 LSU team credit Riley with being the catalyst to the Tigers’ turnaround after their humbling homecoming loss to Troy.
Thanks to a bit of scheduling serendipity, Atlanta’s NFL bye week coincided with LSU’s preparation for Florida. That allowed Riley to return to his alma mater, and he was not in a pleasant mood after the 24-21 defeat to Troy.
“He watched us practice, and he lit into the team like I ain’t never seen before,” said LSU coach Ed Orgeron. “Since then, our team has changed.”
Riley’s message wasn’t anything that the coaches had not already attempted to convey. But coming from their former teammate, it resonated much deeper for the Tigers.
“He just kind of poured his heart out to us and let us know what we needed to do,” said tight end Foster Moreau. “What he would do. What a professional would do in this situation.”
Moreau said that he knew something was up even before the speech because Riley was not his jovial self.
“A guy like Duke is such a friendly face normally. He says ‘Hi’ to the guys. You could tell he just wasn’t the same,” Moreau said. “He didn’t come into the team meeting. He wasn’t hanging out with the linebackers. He was serious.”
Moreau said that the message was general enough for every player to look in the mirror.
“He was calling out old guys and young,” Moreau said. “Old guys, you can’t let this happen. Young guys, you can’t think just because you got here you’re afforded everything.”
No one was spared. Not even sophomore linebacker Devin White, who is arguably having the best season of any player on the roster. White’s 77 tackles are 22 higher than the next-closest defender in the SEC.
“Like he told Devin for example, ‘You’re balling. You’re doing your thing. But is that enough?’ ” Moreau said. “And Devin is doing his thing. He’s playing his ass off. But he’s playing better [since], too.”
White had 13 tackles at Florida and 15 against Auburn. His six solo stops against Auburn were a career-high.
“I actually shed tears,” White said following the Florida game. “Because it was straight from the heart.”
Though Riley could have peeled the paint off the walls at the indoor facility with his volume during the 10-minute pep talk, Moreau noted that he didn’t have to cuss to get his point across. It also didn’t take long for his points to sink in.
“Immediately you could tell guys were like “he’s so right.’ It’s kind of like that quiet, somber silence where you realize something needs to change,” Moreau said. “Friday, you reflect on it. And Saturday you put it into motion.”
Fortunately for the Tigers, Riley’s motivation did not end up as a one-game wonder.
“I thought he would just try to get us fired up,” Moreau said. “He got us prepared in a different way. And I’m really thankful for that.”