Riley Gabriel with his mom Amanda and his dad Adam at the U18 football North America Championship in Orlando, Fla.
TRURO, N.S. – Truro teen Riley Gabriel has gone head to head with the best football players in Canada and the United States.
The 17-year-old defensive back played for Team Canada’s U18 team at the North American Championship in Orlando, Fla., Jan. 28.
“Knowing that everybody on that field is just as good, if not better than me, it makes me think practice makes perfect and you can never be too good for anything. Some of the performances were just ridiculous,” said Gabriel.
Gabriel was referring in particular to Canada’s player of the game, linebacker Brody Williams of Manitoba, who had 10 tackles, four of them solo.
Truro’s young star racked up three tackles, a forced fumble and one sack.
“It was pretty energizing,” says Gabriel. “You’re playing defensive back and you get a sack on national TV.”
The game was broadcast on ESPN and Gabriel says a copy is supposed to appear on Youtube soon.
A defensive back generally plays back from the line of scrimmage to cover wide receivers or players rushing down field. Gabriel says his sack was the result of one of several safety blitzes the Canadians threw at the American quarterback.
Gabriel’s selection to Team Canada was a bit of a surprise – he had tried out for and played with Team Nova Scotia at the 2016 Football Canada Cup held in Manitoba in July.
Nova Scotia’s coaches forwarded names from that team to Football Canada for consideration for the North American Championship.
“Mom called me upstairs one day in November and said we had an email and I was on the list for the top 80 being considered for Team Canada,” says Riley. “Mom thought it was fake. But then a couple days later we got another email and I was on the actual team. It was a little overwhelming, I mean just out of nowhere, one day all of a sudden you’re going to Florida to play against the U.S.”
Gabriel flew out for Florida Jan. 23 and had two walkthroughs and three practices with Team Canada before the game.
When game day arrived, Gabriel spent three hours lying on his bed just thinking.
“I was just thinking about everything I had learned in the last week, everything I had learned in the last six years of playing football, I was thinking about fundamentals and thinking about being on TV in front of millions of people,” he said. “This was definitely the biggest game of my life so far.”
Team Canada lost 26-0 but Canada’s head coach Marco Iadeluca told Football Canada that Canada’s defence was the bright spot on the night.
“I thought the defence played hard all game,” said Iadeluca. “They were on the field for probably three-quarters of the football game and played hard until the end. Our offence turned over the ball way too often to win the football game.”
Gabriel is grateful for the support of friends, family and local businesses that helped him with travel costs especially his uncle Mike of Valley Variety.
Now in Grade 11, Gabriel hopes to apply what he learned in Orlando to a winning season with the Cobequid Educational Centre Cougars next fall.
“It’s got to be ring season – I’m trying to leave high school with a ring,” he said. “It looked like a golden season this year with a seven-game winning streak headed into playoffs and then we lost in the semi-finals,” he said.
And after high school?
“No clue,” he answers with a laugh. “I have no clue where I’m going after high school but the big goal is to keep playing football after university.”