Former Ragin' Cajuns football receiver Al Riles dies at age of 27
A GoFundMe account has been established to assist with funeral expenses for Al Riles, a former UL receiver.
Riles was shot and killed Saturday night in Fort Worth, Texas, his mother, Deidre Riles, told The Daily Advertiser on Monday night.
He was 27.
“Unfortunately we were all hit with the heartbreaking news that this beautiful soul is no longer with us,” said a GoFundMe posting by Deidre Riles. “He impacted every life he touched. Had a smile that could light up a room. A laugh that would fill the air with warmth.”
Riles was UL’s leading receiver in 2016 with 60 catches for 729 yards and two touchdowns. He recorded at least one reception in the last 29 consecutive games of his Cajuns career, a streak that started in 2014.
A product of Lakeshore High, Riles also was a vocal leader who was especially close with teammates raised with him in the the Covington and Mandeville area north of New Orleans.
“He brought the toughness to our receiving group, and to the team,” ex-Cajuns receivers coach and offensive coordinator Jorge Munoz told The Advertiser on Sunday night.
“Back then (linebacker) Otha (Peters) probably was the representative for the defense while Al Riles probably was the representative of the offense, so if something had to be said, something had to be done, if there was an issue within the team, whether it was a bad game or if it was a work-ethic thing, both of those guys would be the ones to address the rest of the team, in a positive way, saying, 'Hey guys, this ain't good enough, we need to step it up.”
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The speedy slot receiver was a first team All-Sun Belt Conference pick as a fifth-year senior, and went on to sign as an undrafted free agent with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts in 2017.
“Al had a personality that would light up the room,” former UL running backs and defensive line coach Marquase Lovings told The Advertiser after hearing of Riles’ passing.
Riles was waived by the Colts a month later, before playing for them. Riles also had a mini-camp invitation that year from the Seattle Seahawks, and he worked out for the Green Bay Packers late in 2017. In 2018 he was signed by the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but he was released less than a month later.
Riles is believed to be the second Cajun from the 2011-17 Mark Hudspeth coaching era, which produced four New Orleans Bowl-winning teams, to die young. In July 2019, defensive back Sean Thomas, a 2014-season senior, tragically died in a two-vehicle accident in St. James Parish.
Riles debuted for the Cajuns in 2012, when he was limited to three games by a leg injury and ended up taking a medical redshirt.
He played on defense and started five games as a redshirt freshman in 2013, beginning in the secondary before moving to linebacker. He had the Cajuns’ defensive play of the season that year, returning an interception 99 yards for a touchdown at Western Kentucky.
Riles moved to the offensive side of the ball in the spring of 2014, when he started 12 of the 13 games and caught 34 passes for 354 yards including a touchdown in a win at UL Monroe.
He followed that up with 46 catches for 477 yards and a career-high four TDs as a redshirt junior in 2015.
“He (Riles) brings a toughness to that (receivers) room,” Munoz said in 2016.
“Hard-nosed guy. Works his tail off. We need that in that room, because most receivers are a little bit soft sometimes. They don’t like to block; they don’t like to get hit. ... He’s the complete opposite."
In 2015, Riles said he had “a bond that can’t be broken,” with childhood friend Peters Jr., who played for the Washington Redskins in 2017 and now is with the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The two were teammates with the Raiders, Cowboys, Vikings and, their favorite, the Chargers, in the Covington Recreation Department’s youth football league.
“We picked up our first football together, since we were 6,” Riles said in 2016.
“We grew up together, and we’ve done everything together, so when he (Peters) was looking to transfer (from Arkansas) he gave me a call ... and I told him, ‘This is the best place you want to be; you want to be close to home, to family, you want to ball with your bro.'”
Riles’ words helped lure Peters to UL.
“I could have gone to bigger places than this,” Peters said, also in 2015. “But I just … feel like I’ve got the talent, I’ve got what it takes to go to the next level (the NFL); why not come home and ball with some of my homeboys like Al (Riles) and Jamal (Robinson) and people I’ve been knowing for years?”
According to his 2016-season UL bio, Riles was the son of David and Diedra Blanchard; he had two sisters, Jamie Riles, who ran track for Tulane, and Tiquanna Blanchard.
“We lost a friend, a brother, a daughter lost her father, and a mother lost her son,” the GoFundMe page established in Riles' honor said. “A life gone too soon! He accomplished so much but was determined to do so much more and that was taken from him.
“As we continue to keep his friends and family in our prayers please also consider donating to help the family with the cost of funeral expenses and whatever else the family needs. They are grateful for whatever you can give.”
Contributing: Ashley White