Nov. 16, 2007
By Holly Laubacher
Some may give credit to the coaching staff for the Washington Huskies' 1991 National Championship. Some may recognize a singularly outstanding player. And others still may give credit for the '91 season to the offense or defense, or maybe both.
Andre Riley has another answer. The four-year letterman and senior captain gives some of the credit to his 1989 Husky squad.
Riley, a San Jose, Calif., native, was recruited by Don James in the mid-1980s as a running back. Choosing Washington over Notre Dame, Riley spent his first two years as a Husky in the backfield.
Before his junior season, however, Coach James told Riley of his decision to turn the running back into a wide receiver. The transition was not a difficult one for Riley, because he knew the switch would give him more time on the field to help his teammates. "I felt that I was a big part of the team and I needed to be on the field every chance I could get," Riley says.
The decision to move to wide receiver turned out to be the correct one. In his senior season, Andre Riley became the first Husky to go over 1,000 yards receiving in a season.
The record-breaking catch came against the Oregon State Beavers in Corvallis, the second-to-last game of the season.
"I knew I was close, but when I hit 1,000 yards, Jeff Woodruff, our wide receiver coach, told me that I broke the record," remembers Riley. "It was an incredible feeling."
The 1,000-yard receiving mark was only one of many records broken during the 1989 season; the season that Riley says turned Husky football around.
The 1988 Huskies were by no means considered the low point in Husky football. They did not have a losing record and they were never blown out. In fact, all five of the team's losses were by fewer than 7 points. The 1988 Huskies, however, did not go to a bowl game.
The absence of a postseason game was enough to upset the Huskies, including Riley. The team spent the spring and summer of 1989 making sure that another non-bowl game season would not happen to them again. It was over the summer of '89 that the Huskies decided to do something special.
Riley says, "That summer, it was all about us working together to get better. Then when we went into camp and then into the season, there was something just a little bit different, something special."
The 1989 Huskies went 7-4 in the regular season, but most importantly, they made it to a bowl game. The Dawgs beat an Emmitt Smith led Florida Gators 34-7 in the Freedom Bowl. With the postseason win came confidence. And with confidence came the 1990 Rose Bowl win and 1991 National Championship.
Though Riley was not technically a member of the National Championship Husky squad, he argues that it was his team that paved the way for the eventual success of the Washington program.
"My senior class all the way down to that freshman class, it was just four to five years of success, incredible success. There was something special there, year after year."
Special indeed, as the 1991 National Championship team can attest.
After his record-breaking, team-building four years as a Husky, Riley went on to play professional football for a few years after college. He was drafted in 1990 by the Cincinnati Bengals as a wide receiver and was subsequently drafted in 1991 into the World League of American Football, a spring developmental league. There, he played for the London Monarchs, who went 9-1 and won the first ever World Bowl.
After a brief stint with the Kansas City Chiefs, Riley began his post-football career, and has led a successful career as the General Sales Manager at Seattle radio station KBSG.
In addition, Riley still stays active in Husky athletics. He is currently the Vice President of the Big W Club, a program that allows Husky athletic alumni the chance to stay directly involved with the Washington Athletic Department. The Big W Club reconnects Husky athletic alums and works with current student-athletes, helping regulate tuition costs and scholarship opportunities.
Riley says he is involved because he owes it the UW.
"I want to give back to this great university that gave me so much. It's all about giving back."
As grateful as Andre Riley is towards Washington, the Huskies are grateful right back. With his leadership skills and determination on the fi eld, Riley and his 1989 squad paved the way towards the legendary 1991 Huskies National Championship.