Chris Riddle is in his second year of high school. Normally, that wouldn't raise any eyebrows except for the fact that he's at his third different high school…in two years.
At 15-and-a-half years old, Riddle is in the class of 2015 and a veteran of acclimation. He's a veteran in college football recruiting, and he's also a veteran in learning how to adjust to new teammates. It's been a journey, and he hasn't even gotten to the meat of his recruitment—the next two years.
Two years ago, Riddle was living in Eden Praire, Minnesota, but his father's job change landed him in Virginia. His freshman year was at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn and he was looking forward to continuing the success quarterback Ryan Burns' had—Burns would end up signing with Stanford's recruiting class of 2013. Riddle was at Stone Bridge for half a year before transferring to Tuscarora High School in Leesburg after their house was sold but the team's offense changed and it wasn't the best fit for the pocket passer.
Riddle transferred to Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington, where he is now a sophomore and, according to him, this is where he will stay. Riddle missed his school's 2012 football season since he was still enrolled at Tuscarora—he's only been at Bishop O'Connell for a few weeks—but he's optimistic about the possibilities for him as a starter this fall.
Exciting life? Absolutely. Glamorous life? Far from it.
The life of a Division I prospect is filled with long days in a car and weekends full of practice, practice, practice. Riddle doesn't have time for a girlfriend and he doesn't have time for the fun activities that normally encompass a teenager's life.
"It's football and football and football," Riddle says, but he quickly adds,"I have…fun." While most kids his age count the days until they're eligible to get their driver's permit, Riddle wasn't even aware he was eligible until I pointed it out to him. He didn't seem bothered, but there was some surprise in his voice. He hadn't thought about it. Or maybe he's too focused on what's really important to him.
This is the path he took. This is the road he chose out of his own free will.
"I've always wanted to be quarterback [since seven years old]," Riddle recollects. Riddle says he was put on the line during his flag football days because he was over the weight limit but only because he was always taller than the rest of his peers. His doctors project him to be 6'3"—he's currently 6'2", 185 pounds.
Riddle recently returned from National Junior Day at LSU, despite him being just a sophomore. Riddle's own website noted that "according to SEC analyst, Gino Joubert, only a few hand-selected sophomores are ever invited to an LSU junior day.'
The public perception of prospects being wined—albeit not real wine—and dined while taking an official visit to a school is well documented, but for a prospect taking an unofficial visit, it's a different experience. Unofficial visits to schools are on the recruits' families' own dime.
"We had to pay for everything," he noted. "They gave us some basketball tickets for the game." Riddle wasn't complaining in as much as he was reiterating the sacrifices his family has made for him.
It's a conundrum for many families—they have to pay the cost to support their child's dream but there's also a high probability their sons may never attend the school they just visited. Riddle also has three coaches who have been his mentors: Todd Krueger, Mike Sims and Chris Baucia.
While his coaches work on all aspects of his game, "they're working on my lower half," he said. "Not necessarily my footwork, but more of my pocket mobility and just agility." Video of Riddle's workouts shows him working with his coaches.
It's a financial gamble rife with incredible financial burden, all for an athletic scholarship and a chance to make millions in the NFL.
Last month Riddle's family traveled from Virginia to Louisiana, eschewing commercial air travel and electing to go via automobile. His father Jon, a cyber security specialist with the government, his mom Heidi, a nurse, his seven-year-old brother, his 17-year old cousin who lives with the family and his brother Matt—who plays left tackle at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida—all piled into the car for the 16-hour drive to Baton Rouge. There was no side trip to New Orleans—this was strictly business, not a fun-filled weekend of partying.
The family arrived in Baton Rouge, walked along the delta at sunset and Chris noticed the immediate influence of LSU in the community. "You go to a restaurant and the entire restaurant is all purple and gold," he laughed.
The family toured the athletic facilities, but it was a somewhat informal tour—Riddle says "they let us walk around" and absorb the enormous scale of equipment available to the student-athlete. On a more formal tour of the campus, a school official told his family about the history of the school. "It was amazing," he reminisced. "It's extremely modern…the weight room was huge, everything was decked out in LSU and everything was LSU."
When Riddle walked through the uprights into the stadium, the sell was pretty easy. "It was huge," he said.
"You can imagine how loud it's going to be when you see all those seats…and they said they're adding another like 20,000 at the end of the stadium. You can just imagine Baton Rouge…on a late night with all the fans crowded in…and how loud it will be."
You could hear the excitement in his voice. A high school sophomore taking a visit to an elite school and imagining what it would be like to play in a stadium that has one of the most passionate fan bases in the country is difficult to top—just like SEC big boy football.
Riddle said the school visit was all about information and a chance to see how he would fit in—this wasn't like a combine where scouts are evaluating athletic ability.
"There were no drills, they were basically just trying to sell us," Riddle explained, adding that there were about 100 athletes at LSU's Junior Day. Riddle was at the stadium the day after Malcolm "Cam" Cameron was named offensive coordinator at LSU, and Riddle got to spend some time with him. "It was amazing to pick his brain," Riddle says.
Riddle's position as quarterback would certainly be of high interest to LSU since the Tigers have struggled to find that elite quarterback for several years. Did Riddle observe any pressing concern by Cameron over the quarterback position?
"I think Zach [Mettenberger] is doing pretty well with the offense," Riddle said. "They're not in a rush to get another quarterback."
Riddle spent about an hour total talking to the coaches on the field. A sixteen-hour drive for one hour of one-on-one time with elite coaches. The family toured the rest of the campus and after that headed home.
The trip back home is where Chris and his father discussed the visit. "I get feedback after every school I visit," he explained. "He'd be supportive of any school I went to."
Boston College, Notre Dame and Georgia have invited Riddle to visit their schools, and he's done just that. Arizona State just recently sent Riddle a letter indicating he was a target of interest, and Florida is his next destination at the end of this month.
Rarely do prospects have anything negative to say about their school visits and Riddle is no exception, but the tone of his voice when describing the schools he has visited so far is of enormous respect—he doesn't have the attitude of a kid who thinks a school is privileged to have his presence at the school. On the contrary, he feels honored to be invited to the school.
Boston College was Riddle's first unofficial visit, and he declared it "a very nice campus." Notre Dame's "campus lived up to expectations" and Georgia also impressed Riddle.
"It's awesome…cool tradition…between the hedges," he said in excitement.
I asked Chris how he would describe all four schools he has visited (so far) in one word and he thought long and hard about each school.
Notre Dame was "beautiful", Boston College was "prestigious", Georgia reminded him of "tradition" and LSU?
"Competitive," he answered in an unwavering voice.
Riddle, like most boys his age, also took notice of the schools' coeds roaming the campuses. After a little coaxing from me, Riddle finally gave me an answer to which school had the prettiest girls.
"LSU and Georgia are kind of tied," he said sheepishly. The SEC wins again.
Jon calls his son "driven and focused" and his schedule indicates little time for goofing around. By the time school lets out and he's done lifting weights, he's home around 6:30 in the evening. Riddle says "if there's light, I'll throw" but otherwise it's dinner, homework and sleep during the week.
When I asked him what his favorite dinner his mom cooked for him, Chris responded with shock and then a chuckle.
"Huh? Favorite food my mom cooks? My mom does not cook at all." Jon's the cook and unlike most teenage boys who can't get enough hamburgers, pasta or steak, Chris says he has "to go with salmon" as his favorite meal.
Weekends aren't quite as hectic for Riddle—unless he's going on a school visit—so he spends a lot of time throwing the football to his two receivers, George Hawkins and Marquis Rowe; The Washington Post named Rowe to its All-Met team (honorable mention) last season. After tossing the ball around, Riddle says it's time "to eat some wings."
Like all student-athletes, Riddle has favorite players. "I don’t follow NBA but I'll go with the Lakers," he said. "Baseball? Yankees." Ahh, youth. They just love to go with winners, don't they? Riddle lived in Southern California when he was little so we'll give him a hall pass on the Lakers. His favorite NFL team?
"Colts, no question," he replied. "I was a big Manning fan [but] once he left I couldn't justify switching over to the Broncos."
Like Manning, Riddle hopes to be playing on Sundays.
"[For] anyone who wants to be good at football, their dream is going to be the NFL," he said. "Of course I would consider the NFL as my ultimate goal, as most kids [would]."
For now, his aim is to be playing on fall Saturdays.
But unlike a lot of college football fans who tend to jump on a conference's bandwagon, Riddle says although he lives in ACC country and is close to SEC country, conference affiliation isn't tantamount to prospects picking their schools of interest—at least not the prospects he knows and what he's observed from them.
"I think most kids' dreams [are] to get to the best school that they can," he noted.
In two years, Chris Riddle will be in college and hopefully playing quarterback at his dream school.
Until then, he'll have coaches knocking on his front door and waxing poetic about how their school is the best choice for him. Riddle probably won't make his signing day announcement a circus act like so many recruits have done in the past—he appeared to be very unassuming when we chatted.
That may change when he approaches his parents to remind them about that important teenage milestone that passed by without fanfare or acknowledgement.
He wants his driver's permit.