Since the New York Giants selected Jordon Riley in the seventh round of the 2023 NFL Draft, much has been made about his impressive size and the depth and talent of the Giants’ defensive tackle rotation. However, not many truly understand just how much it took for Riley to even get onto the field at rookie mini-camp.
“I came a long way. This was just a blessing to be in this building,” he said at Giants rookie mini-camp over the weekend. “I come from a small town in Durham, North Carolina. Opportunities like this are slim. I really think it’s a blessing, and I’m just glad to be here.”
Coming out of high school, Riley was ranked as the 39th-best defensive tackle in the country by ESPN.com. He graduated early and enrolled at the University of North Carolina in January 2017. Despite playing only three years of football prior to college, Riley was an impressive athlete who many felt had untapped potential.
Yet, he was only able to get into five games during his freshman year at North Carolina, making six total tackles, and then redshirted before his sophomore season.
The next year, he was out of division one football entirely.
“It was definitely a humbling experience,” Riley said about having to enroll at Garden City Community College after having been a division one athlete out of high school. “Coming from D1 and just being out there, not having all the resources, not having all the help that you usually get at D1, it really taught me a lot. It helped me be the man I am today, and I just appreciate being out there.”
In addition to learning how to simply appreciate the game of football, Riley used his time at the community college level to refine his work ethic and determination.
“I just feel like I just learned to just never stop, never get too down on myself,” he explained. “Just keep going, keep pursuing. Even all the adversity I went through, I think, just stay humble and just keep going.”
The 320-pound defensive tackle spent just one year at Garden City, finishing with 26 tackles, two sacks, and 3.5 tackles for a loss on a defense that held opponents to 289.0 yards of total offense per game.
It was enough to get him back to the division one level, choosing to play at Nebraska over East Carolina.
At Nebraska, Riley appeared in 16 games across two seasons, notching eight tackles, and one tackle for a loss. With one of those years being shortened due to COVID, Riley was able to get another season of eligibility and transferred to Oregon for his final season in college.
“I didn’t ever lose faith,” he told Giants reporters. “I believe in God and everything like that, and I just kept going. I just knew that I just couldn’t stop. I’ve got a little daughter at home, and she means the world to me, and I just think me stopping wouldn’t have helped her, so I just felt like, just keep going. That’s all I was thinking about.”
He had his best season at Oregon, starting all 13 games for the Ducks and making 21 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, half a sack, and one pass breakup. It was enough to put him on the map for NFL organizations, like the Giants.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said during his first day at Giants practice. “This is something I’ve dreamed about since I was little. But I knew the time was coming.”
Now that the time has come, it’s just another opportunity for Riley to prove himself in a new setting.
“I’ve been different places. I’ve been to different colleges, and I had to meet new people, new facilities, and new coaches. It’s all a part of my journey…With all the stops, I just think I fell in the right place here in New York. I’m just blessed to be able to be in this great tradition, great building.”
Whether or not he’s able to stick in the league for a long time or just how much of an impact he can have on the Giants’ defensive line is a question for another time. Right now, Riley is just focused on making yet another transition.
“I’m all about right now,” he said. “I don’t really think too much in the future. I’m just here right now in the present.”
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