Senior co-captain Mark Riley has been a pivotal part of the defense for this year's Needham High School varsity football team and has been described by other coaches in the Bay State Conference as the best tight end in the state. But the humble Riley doesn’t let anything interfere with his game—he's just focused on having fun and working hard.
Needham Patch stopped by the practice field recently to chat with Riley, who shared his thoughts about the season, recent wins and his favorite football moments in the Rockets uniform.
After last week’s win against Walpole, you, as well as senior co-captains Pete Madsen and Mike Vespa brought the game ball to Drew Burnett. Talk about that particular experience. It was great to get the win for Drew. He was a part of our team for the first half of the season, and he really put us in the right direction for the whole season. I actually told Drew earlier last week that I was going to get him two touchdowns and, sure enough—lucky enough, I guess—I was able to get it to him. Bringing [the game ball] over was unbelievable. Me, Pete, and Mike just went into the room where he was in and he almost cried, but it was an emotional time, but he was happy for us to get the win.
After beating Walpole and Weymouth this season, how does your team remain focused, especially after the “big game” victories? We celebrate over the weekend, celebrating the win, but come Monday, we know that our job is to work hard, push each other in practice and get better. We kind of don’t change anything up, kind of keep doing what we’re doing—it’s been working so far, so we’re going to continue to do it.
So far this season, you’ve caught 11 touchdowns, but was that a goal during the offseason? Me and Drew talked over the summer about our connection, but touchdowns really wasn’t a factor. [Instead], it was just getting the win for the team, so our real goal was to make it to the playoffs, and make it to Gillette [Stadium]. Touchdowns will come, but the win is really what we’re focused on.
Describe the senior leadership on this team. What have you and the co-captains done to help the underclassmen? Whether you’re a captain or not, seniors are going to be captains. Every young kid looks up to a senior. I know all of us did, and we know the responsibilities and roles we have. All these seniors took Ryan Charter under our wing, whether we were captain or not. It's great because we all want it [to win], and there’s no one that doesn’t want it like us. We all want it.
After last week’s win against Walpole, how has Ryan Charter responded in practice? Ryan did a great job in our [last game against Walpole]. I think he knows that he has a lot to work on, but it was a great start to his confidence boost, so I think that was a great win for Ryan. He's been practicing more plays. We’re getting him in the first offense now. Last week, we weren’t sure, but this week he’s our guy, so we’re ready to roll with him.
This Friday, you’re facing Natick—what sort of challenges or obstacles will your team face? I think our biggest challenge is shutting down Troy Flutie, [who’s] the quarterback. He’s fast, athletic, but he’s good. [Natick] runs a lot of zones and draws, so we’re going to try and shut that down, and just get after them.
With all the success your team has experience this season, would you consider this the ideal senior year? I think it’s definitely been a good senior year. We had a tough loss to Mansfield earlier in the season, but we definitely learned from it. I think it was a good loss on that point, but this season’s been unbelievable. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Everyone’s so dedicated and committed to the team that it’s just great, it’s a lot of fun. We’re just having fun. That was our main goal—have fun and win.
There are still a few more weeks remaining in the regular season, but looking down the road, do you feel your team will be ready to face challenging foes outside the Bay State Conference en route to a State Championship? Our goal right now is to take it one game at a time. We know that Brockton and the Big Three [Conference] is very tough, but that’s why we played Mansfield and we were able to play a very tough competition. We played Weymouth and Walpole, but we’re trying to take one game at a time right now. We know that we can play with those kids. We played with Mansfield, and we beat Weymouth and Walpole.
Your older brother, Bobby Riley, was a big component of Needham’s football history and success. Has he helped you improve your game this season? Bobby’s been a great leader, just a great brother overall, and I grew up watching him. After every game, I come home and he always says, ‘great game, but you got to do this,’ so it’s great to have a very good mentor, who’s been around the game for a while. He played in college, so it’s definitely nice to have him [help me]. I learn a lot every week.
What’s an average game day like for you? I think our minds are on the game all day. As for lunch, we kind of just eat our regular cafeteria food, and I think all of usually go home right after school, get a quick nap, maybe a shower or quick bite, and I like to listen to my i-Pod, too—get pumped up.
What’s your favorite pre-game jam? I usually listen to ‘Your Hand in Mine’ [which was the song from NBC’s "Friday Night Lights" television series] before we go out to the field, and also ‘300 Violin Orchestra.' Those usually get me fired up, along with ‘Thunderstruck’ and ‘Hells Bells’ by ACDC.
Once the current season concludes, what’s one thing you’ll always remember about Needham High School football? I’m definitely going to remember last year’s Wellesley game [on Thanksgiving]. It was just an unbelievable win. It was 14-0 going into the fourth quarter, and obviously the overtime win was unbelievable, with the crowd storming the field. I’m definitely going to remember that, but even further than that, just going out every day, practicing with my buddies, my best friends growing up. I'll just remember all the good times.