Even Josh Riley’s football coach playfully calls him a nerd.
Riley gets good grades, played in the Sumner High School band and occupies an unassuming frame of 5-feet-10, 160 pounds.
“He’s called me that a lot,” Riley laughed. “Being good at school and band — it doesn’t always look very athletic.”
Except Riley’s probably one of the best all-around athletes in the South Sound. Not just at Sumner High School.
Not that he’d say that.
“I don’t know,” Riley said. “We got Connor Wedington over here.”
Sure, Wedington runs the 100 and 200 meters and is committed to the University of Washington for football. But he doesn’t compete in the 400, two hurdles events, high jump, sprint relays, long jump, throwing events, pole vault and whatever else Riley does.
Riley didn’t know what a decathlete was until his coaches introduced him to the state multi-event championships last spring. He had never tried the pole vault or some of the throwing events until that day, but he still finished the championships with the eighth-best decathlon score and the fifth-best among non-seniors.
And now he’s signed a letter of intent to become a decathlete at the University of Montana.
“I wasn’t surprised at all,” said Kristin Chapman, Sumner’s hurdles and distance coach and the head coach of the girls team. “He’s so talented and so driven. They (Montana) were lucky to get him. I think he’s that talented and athletic enough and hard working.”
Riley had played percussion in middle school and each of the past three years in the Spartan marching band before stopping this year. He performed with the band at Disney World in Florida his sophomore year.
He still annoys his teachers and classmates drumming his pens and pencils on his desk.
“You get that rap of ‘You’re a band geek’ or whatever,” Riley said. “But once you get over that with your friends, the band is a fun thing to do. I just liked playing.”
Then again, what doesn’t he do?
▪ In football, Riley ran for 1,039 yards and 10 touchdowns as a running back and made The News Tribune’s All-Area football team as a linebacker.
▪ He worked as a lifeguard, but this past week took a job at restaurant in Bonney Lake.
▪ Has it been mentioned he’s a decathlete?
“My mom loves him. I think she wants me to be Josh Riley,” said teammate Kolby Nikolaisen, who also competed alongside Riley in that state multi-event championship last June in Lake Stevens.
“She’ll tell me ‘WWJD — what would Josh do?’ ”
Riley’s older brothers, Steven and Andrew, both competed in track and field, as did his older sister Amanda.
Josh Riley passed Steven’s 300 hurdles time of 42.12 and only trails Sumner graduate and former Stanford hurdler JJ Jackson’s time of 38.39 seconds. Riley has hit 38.74, but he also owns the school record in the high jump at 6-8¼.
“Steven always talked about Josh,” Sumner boys track coach Maurice Dudley said. “Even his mom even told me a lot about Josh. They said, ‘You just wait until Josh comes through here.’ Sure enough, he had the fire in his belly — very athletic, very coachable, extremely humble young man.
“He came in and he said he knew he wanted to make big accomplishments.”
The thing about those multi-event state championships was that Riley had hardly trained for it. He was focused on the WIAA state track and field championships, where he took second place in the high jump (6 feet 6), fourth in the 300 hurdles, eighth in the 110 hurdles and seventh alongside Wedington, Nikolaisen and Michael Russell in the 4x100 relay.
Riley didn’t have a decathlete coach like some of the other top decathletes. Actually, Dudley said the Sumner coaches get frustrated because they’re constantly competing for Riley’s practice time.
University of Montana track coach Brian Schweyen saw potential.
“He already has three great events (the hurdles events and high jump) and wants to be a decathlete,” Schweyen said. “I think he’s one of those diamonds in the rough.
“He’s a great football player and a great running back, and you can’t do well in that position without being a little bit aggressive and wanting to compete hard. That’s a great mix for a decathlete.”
Riley considered playing football at the next level. But track and field was never a supplement to football, nor was football a supplement to track and field.
“Going into my senior year, I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Riley said. “I just like the atmosphere of track a lot more. Football is great, the team was great, but I always liked doing my own thing. The people in track are so great. It’s so relaxed and relaxed in a competitive manner. In football, you can know the guys on the other team, but you don’t ever talk to them.”
Besides, this nerd has more athletic endeavors to pursue.
“Once I realized the decathlon would be something I would be good at, and to show off all my athleticism, I knew I wanted to do it,” Riley said.
“At state, in the high jump, I was standing next to guys who were like 6-foot-6 (one was 6-foot-9 James Edwards Jr. of Franklin) and huge. Nobody seemed to think I would be much competition. It’s nice to think they are looking at me as an underdog — because I’m not really an underdog.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
TOP SOUTH SOUND TRACK AND FIELD MARKS
Through Monday, April 12
100 – Alex Taylor, Federal Way, sr., 10.89
200 – Luke White, Graham-Kapowsin, sr., 22.22
400 – Walker Flynn, Lincoln, sr., 49.52
800 – *Cameron Carroll, Central Kitsap, sr. 1:54.00
1,600 – Jack Yearian, Bellarine Prep, sr. 4:16.97
3,200 – James Mwaura, Lincoln, soph., 9:17.73
110 hurdles – Tanner Conner, Kentridge, sr., 14.39
300 hurdles – *Josh Braverman, River Ridge, jr., 38.25
4x100 relay – *Graham-Kapowsin (Nonso Onwumere, Luke White, Aaron Wright, Chukwudi Onwumere) 42.51
4x400 relay – Central Kitsap (Blake Trujillo, Christian Scwieterman, Alex Stimac, Cameron Carroll) 3:28.79
Shot put – *Nolan Van Amen, South Kitsap, jr., 57-5
Discus – Nolan Van Amen, South Kitsap, jr., 165-7
Javelin – Jordan Bishop, Rogers, sr., 177-6
High jump – D’Jimon Jones, Federal Way, sr., 6-8
Pole vault – Kolby Nikolaisen, Sumner, sr., 14-0
Long jump – *Mason Sallee, Federal Way, sr., 22-9½
Triple jump – *Emmanuel Thornton, Franklin Pierce, sr., 46-8½
* No. 1 in the state
100 – Lauryn Ford, Kentridge, fr., 12.19
200 – *Lauryn Ford, Kentridge, fr., 23.88
400 – Hannah Carroll, Gig Harbor, fr., 58.23
800 – Emma Sjolund, Sumner, soph., 2:18.92
1,600 – Emma Sjolund, Sumner, soph., 5:13.70
3,200 – Rachel Kastama, Puyallukp, jr., 11:32.84
100 hurdles – Jaleesa Taylor, Kent-Meridian, soph., 14.96
300 hurdles – Essence Foster, Rogers, jr., 46.32
4x100 relay – *Tahoma (Aliya Wilson, Olivia Ribera, Alisha Wilson, Tierra Wilson) 48.89
4x200 relay – *Tahoma (Alisha Wilson, Tierra Wilson, Aliya Wilson, Olivia Ribera) 1:42.52
4x400 relay – Curtis (Saudia Heard, Brooke Weber, Jayda Currin, Morgan Weaver) 4:02.49
Shot put – Samantha Bourdreau, Bonney Lake, sr., 43-1
Discus – Ginny Mehl, Tahoma, jr., 133-1
Javelin – Ginny Mehl, Tahoma, jr., 134-6
High jump – Taylor Sterling, Thomas Jefferson, sr., 5-3
Pole vault – Anna Chartrey, Tumwater, sr., 11-7
Long jump – Lauryn Ford, Kentridge, fr., 18-4½
Triple jump – *Alexis Ellis, Curtis, soph., 40-8¼
* No. 1 in the state