LAFAYETTE — Al Riles is hoping his nomadic journey across both sides of the depth chart is finally at an end.
No more backpedaling, peeling off to cover receivers out of the backfield or peering into the eyes of opposing quarterbacks, anticipating from where a pass might originate.
Those days, Riles thinks, are probably gone.
“I feel like I’m home now,” Riles said as he and other Louisiana-Lafayette football players handled interviews during the team’s annual media day at the Alumni House located on the periphery of the school’s campus.
After playing strong safety then moving to outside linebacker as a redshirt freshman last year, Riles made the switch to offense this spring, slipping comfortably into the slot receiver position he played at Mandeville’s Lakeshore High.
Riles’ move to receiver certainly wasn’t precipitated by lack of production on the defensive side.
After switching from safety to linebacker three games into the year, Riles still managed to make 39 tackles, recover two fumbles and force another.
One of his interceptions came on a fourth and goal situation at Western Kentucky when he returned the ball for a 99-yard touchdown.
Making three position- switches in less than a year, although disconcerting, wasn’t totally surprising, Riles said.
“When I came in (at UL-Lafayette), I was recruited as an athlete and I knew (the coaches) were going to move me around a lot. I went to outside linebacker and I feel I did pretty good with that, so I talked to Coach (Mark Hudspeth) in the spring and he said they would try me out at the H-receiver.
“It can be overwhelming. Every (fall) camp I’ve been at, I had to learn a new position. That takes a lot of work off the field. You’ve got to be dedicated to take it all in,” Riles said.
Cajuns quarterback Terrance Broadway said he likes the way Riles has joined seniors Jamal Robinson and James Butler to create the Cajuns’ core group of receivers.
“(Riles) made a lot of plays in the spring, and he took a lot of steps forward,” Broadway said. “He’s the kind of receiver who is going to stretch the field and work the bubble game. He’s shown he’s a natural athlete.
“With (Riles) so far, it’s been all good. He’s been a good addition.”
Riles is replacing Darryl Surgent, who caught 100 passes for 1,642 yards and 14 touchdowns in his UL-Lafayette career.
Broadway said Riles’ speed and route running remind him of former Cajuns’ receiver Harry Peoples, who had a team-leading 64 receptions in 2012.
Robinson (87 career catches, 1,569 yards) and Butler (49-679) represent the experience in a receivers’ group that is also young, said offensive coordinator-associate head coach Jay Johnson.
Johnson conceded that Robinson and Butler are exceptionally talented and experienced, but he added that he’s also intrigued by his overall group of receivers.
“I’m looking at who’s the next guy (after Robinson and Butler),” Johnson said.
One of the players receiving scrutiny is Riles, said Johnson.
“Riles gives the slot another dimension. He has running skills once he catches it,” Johnson said.
Following Surgent, who is in NFL training camp with the Kansas City Chiefs, is a big step, Riles said.
“Yeah, it’s a lot of pressure. For me, though, it’s a good kind of pressure,” Riles said.