You Don’t Know Riley

Korina Valenzuela
Senior Riley Lees, Quarterback (6)

Alex Zoellick, Editor-in-Chief

Bo Jackson comes to mind when thinking of the best two-sport athletes of all time. In 1990, he scaled the outfield wall in Royal Blue to make one of the most iconic catches the MLB has ever seen; a few years earlier, in 1987, he would run for 221 yards and three touchdowns in one of the best rookie performances the NFL has ever seen. Jackson was a special athlete that left some saying that without baseball, he could have been one of the best football players ever.

Jackson had the rare ability to excel as a multisport athlete, something that was spun off in a Nike commercial series. The series featured Jackson doing activities from running to hockey to weightlifting with the catchphrase “Bo knows” to emphasize just how dynamic he was.  ESPN 30-for-30 made a feature film of Jackson’s career to illustrate the difficulty of deciding what to play and to showcase the little known personal aspect of his life. It was cleverly named “You don’t know Bo.”

Those rare two-sport athletes come around maybe once in a generation, if fans are lucky. The athletes seem to be more likely in high school since the level of competition isn’t as high as the NFL or MLB. And for those who think that Libertyville doesn’t have any great two-sport athletes: you don’t know Riley.

Though the starting Wildcat quarterback and outfielder finds inspiration from Jackson’s career, his love for his sports stems from a love of his family. From a young age, junior Riley Lees loved football, and so did his family.

“My brothers played and my dad coached so it was kind of in the family,” said Lees. “They have taught me how to play my my whole life. They taught me how to act when I play. I really don’t want to disappoint them.”

Football runs in the Lees Family but so does Carmel High School. Lees’ three older brothers attended and played football for the Corsairs, but a last-minute decision pushed Lees to LHS. Seeing that both schools are fairly equal academically, the Lees family made the decision that socially and athletically, Libertyville was the better choice.

“I was going to Carmel through eighth grade football then in January it flipped,” said Lees. “Even my family wanted me to go to [Libertyville].”

Coming to Libertyville proved to be a good decision, as his athleticism allowed for him to make an impact in sports right off the bat freshmen year. The first problem came in narrowing down what to play. With football already on the docket, the choice came down between basketball and baseball.

“Coming into high school I was playing basketball too,” said Lees. “I figured I had to narrow it down to two [sports] cause I don’t want to play three. I wanted an offseason. I chose baseball because I enjoy it and it is a lot of fun to play. I wasn’t very good at [basketball], I was only good at defense.”

Once his two sports were narrowed down, his focused was turned to the playing field. Lees’ duality can be seen in more than just the sports he plays; he is also a part of the rare breed of running quarterbacks. The traditional QB sits in the pocket of protection created by the offensive line and makes plays from there. Running QBs are becoming more popular in all levels of football. NFL players like Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III have all found success in the ability to use their legs to create something from nothing on a seemingly dead play, a style of play the Lees’ legs lend him to. His running style allows the team to utilize the read option, where Lees takes off running and has the choice to pass down field, hand the ball off or continue running.

“If the quarterback is not a runner then the defense only has to focus on the running back, or if it’s a pass, the receivers,” explained LHS varsity football head coach Mr. Mike Jones. “By adding that third dimension [running], that is something that other teams have to take into consideration.”

Lees’ running ability can be seen in his performance in the first game of the year against Palatine. He rushed for 191 yards and two scores. Those numbers shouldn’t overshadow his passing stat line either. Through the air, he racked up 141 yards and three touchdowns.

Though Lees boasts tremendous talent, individual success matters little to him. He is a team guy who puts the needs of the group over the his own individual desires, and his teammates have taken notice.

“Well first off,  just pure talent is obviously helpful along with athleticism,” said junior Timmy Calamari, Lees’ teammate and friend. “His ability to learn on the go helps him succeed on the field. If you ask Riley, he would tell you it’s not about what he accomplishes on the field but how he can help his team succeed.”

Playing multiple positions helped Lees get a grasp of not only the team, but also the game. Last year, as a sophomore, Lees had the experience of not only playing punter and taking snaps as quarterback, but also lining up as a receiver. According to Lees, it has helped him learn when and where receivers like the ball.

“He was a good receiver and I think it gives him better perspective now that he is playing full-time quarterback,” said coach Jones. “He has played the other end of it. So he knows and has some insight in what it’s like to be a receiver.”

Though he has had a lot of individual success early in the season, Lees attributes his solid play to his teammates.

“What I’ve done these past few games [has happened] because everyone did their job and that opened it up for me,” said Lees. “Our whole offense is doing its job. The past two weeks I have been making plays, but it will be everyone by the end of the year.”

Lees’ selflessness also shows up in his leadership abilities. When he is not in-season, he volunteers his time by doing community service through St. Joes Church. According to Coach Jones, Lees is a lead-by-example player. He won’t get in a teammate’s face; rather, he’ll show them what he expects through his tremendous work ethic.

“Riley is a great role model in school and on the field,” added Calamari. “He leads by example and always knows when it is time to work and when it is time to have fun. Riley leads by example and doesn’t speak much of his abilities, but when people are not doing their job, he would be the first one to be there to give them a push.”
His work ethic pushes him through baseball season as well. When he is in season for a very competitive varsity baseball team, Lees still makes it a priority to make it to off season football lifting.

“During baseball season we had [football] lifting in the morning,” said Lees. “I think I only missed one. It shows my teammates that I’m putting it out for them and I’ll do anything for them.”

Just like in football, Lees had a feeling-out period with the baseball team. In his freshmen year, he was pulled up to varsity for the post season. His role was a courtesy runner, a role used for players with athleticism and blistering speed, someone who runs in place of another player, usually the catcher. By the end of the post-season, when the team placed second in the state, he was the go-to courtesy runner. Because of his blinding speed, Lees was counted upon to run when former All-State catcher Evan Skoug got on base.

“I’ve seen him make a countless number of jaw-dropping plays,” said senior teammate Jimmy Govern. “[The best was] probably when he stole six bases off of Grant’s catcher, Simeon Lucas, who got drafted in the 7th round [of the MLB Draft] this year.”

Sophomore year, he jumped between the sophomore team and varsity. When he was on varsity, he split time between courtesy running and different outfield positions. By the end of the year, he settled in as the starting centerfielder. Now that Lees has found his niche on the team, he can focus on what he needs to do to help the team.

“By the end of the year, they were looking to me to get hits and get on base to score,” said Lees. “They didn’t need me to hit doubles and triples, they wanted me to do what I could to get on base so I could steal second, or get into scoring position.”

Though Lees is clearly a game changer in both football and baseball, it isn’t clear to him which sport he likes to play more, saying “[I like] whatever is in season.”