Elijah Riley stood in the Newfield parking lot and started dancing. His footwork, shoulders, hips — he had it all working — and soon enough, so did the rest of his Newfield teammates as they circled around their leader.
“It’s our hip-hop version of the Haka,” Riley laughed after the team was honored during Sunday’s parade in Selden. “We always did it after practice and games. It’s our team thing and just brings us together to have fun.”
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The laughter that reigned after those Newfield practices and after a school-record 12 wins, including three by shutout, will ring on forever. The Wolverines put together the greatest season in the school’s 58-year history, punctuated by a Long Island Class II title. And Riley was right at the epicenter.
The kid who could dance was the leader of it all, the big playmaker on offense, defense and special teams.
“Elijah was the guy we turned to when we needed that big play,” said Newfield’s record-breaking quarterback, Ryan Klemm, who passed for 31 touchdowns. “He was the calm during the storm. He was the confident one telling everyone else, ‘No worries, we got this.’ ”
Riley scored three touchdowns and elected to kneel at the MacArthur 6-yard line with 53 seconds left — instead of scoring a fourth TD — in Newfield’s 41-33 win in the Class II championship game at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium. The classy gesture was a testament to Riley’s feel for the game and respect for opponents.
“He’s a classy kid,” MacArthur coach Bob Fehrenbach said. “He certainly has a bright future.”
For his accomplishments, the 6-foot, 200-pound Riley was named the winner of the 54th Carl A. Hansen Award, which was presented to Suffolk’s top player at the Suffolk County High School Football Coaches Association banquet Monday night at the Hyatt Regency in Hauppauge.
Riley is the first Newfield player to win the Hansen Award.
Sayville quarterback Jack Coan, who threw for 37 touchdowns and led the Golden Flashes to the Long Island Class III crown, and Longwood halfback Khalil Owens, who scored 30 touchdowns and led the Lions to the Class I title, were finalists.
“It’s an honor to earn such a prestigious award,” Riley said. “It’s a great way to end a dream season. I share this award with all my teammates and coaches, for without them I wouldn’t be in this position. Football is never about one guy, it’s about a team. This is a blessing.”
Riley rushed for 1,012 yards and scored a school-record 31 touchdowns. He finished with 1,934 all-purpose yards as Newfield set the Suffolk record for points scored in a season with 518.
Riley also earned the Tom Cassese Award presented to Suffolk’s top defensive back. He allowed only three pass receptions, had three interceptions, forced two fumbles and made 66 tackles, including 45 solos.
“He’s an exceptional talent,” North Babylon coach Terry Manning said. “He took the game over. He was compared to Jason Gwaltney, but they were two different types of beast-like player. Riley is the best kid I’ve seen in like 20 years. He’s an impact player all over the field.”
Manning said Riley destroyed defensive game plans.
“You didn’t stop him, you tried to contain him, but he was so slick in the open field,” he said. “He was speed and power all rolled into one. I would have given him the ball 40 times a game and get the game over with quickly and let the other kids play the second half.”
Perhaps most impressive about Riley was his ability to recognize the greatness in others. If you were to ask him to pick out the biggest plays of the year, his answer would not be what you’d expect — unless of course, you knew Riley.
He acknowledged pinpoint throws by Klemm (his best friend), timely interceptions by Denzel Williams, critical tackles by Steven Hoynacky, Dylan Ferrari and Austin Gubelman, and catches by Joe Muller and Izzy Israel as key plays.
“He’s not going to talk about himself,” Newfield coach Joe Piccininni said. “He’s going to talk about everyone else. He’s never about him, and that’s what makes him such a great leader. He’s the most humble kid.”
Klemm was asked about Riley’s most memorable moment.
“There were so many, but the key moment in our season came on his 5-yard touchdown run just before the end of the first half in the Suffolk championship against Hills West,” Klemm said. “It wasn’t spectacular in distance. It was memorable in the way he scored. He was hit behind the line, broke tackles and refused to be stopped. It was all heart and desire.”
Said Riley, “I’m going to miss my teammates. We created unforgettable memories, and 10, 20 years down the road, we’ll enjoy every second of them. When I held the championship trophy at the end, I knew it was over and we’d accomplished what we came together to do. And I was thrilled, but I never wanted it to end.”
He wants to keep on dancing.