Y'all want to win? Put Boobie in.
Growing up, Giants safety Curtis Riley played every position at University High School in Orlando. He was a quarterback, running back, fullback, receiver and safety. As a junior, he whittled it down to quarterback and safety. As a senior, he played strictly quarterback and was selected as a Central Florida Top 100 player.
In other words, he was the big man on campus. So was Boobie Miles, the subject of the book, movie and TV series "Friday Night Lights" based on the 1988 Permian High School Panthers football team in Odessa, Texas. That, coupled with his resemblance to actor Derek Luke, who portrayed Boobie in the movie, is how Riley got the nickname.
"I just could do it all, and I actually had the same haircut he had," Riley said. "I had a baby face. I looked just like Derek Luke in the movie. So everybody just started calling me Boobie from there."
The moniker made the journey from Orlando to Division II Mars Hill College in North Carolina, to Fullerton College in California, to Fresno State, to the Tennessee Titans, and now all the way to the New York Giants. When coaches see him in the hallway at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center, they call him Boobie. When they want him running with the first team, which he did on Friday at training camp and during much of spring practices, they say, "Put Boobie in."
After all the stops, including a return home to help his family out in 2011, Riley is in position to start alongside two-time Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins. Riley admitted that he was a "little shocked" the Titans didn't hold onto him, but that only led to the opportunity with the Giants. He signed in March and was told there would be an open competition. It was all too good to pass up.
"It's the New York Football Giants, man," Riley said. "That's one of the best franchises in history. So that was a big thing and the position is open, up for grabs, anywhere it would be open, so it was just a good opportunity for me. So I just decided to come here and try to fight for the starting spot."
With Collins limited this spring by the arm he fractured at the end of last season, Riley saw many of the reps on the top line. Darian Thompson, a former third-round draft choice who started all 16 games at the other safety spot and played the most snaps (1,064) of anyone on defense last season, opened training camp next to Collins. The next day, it was Riley's turn. So it's game on between them and a handful of other players like Andrew Adams.
When Riley signed with the Giants, he was also told to expect his shot to come at safety. He came into the league as a cornerback, but after spending all of his first NFL season in 2015 on injured reserve, he put on some good weight and was moved to safety.
The biggest difference in the position change was all of the moving parts. Cornerbacks, for the most part, lock onto their receiver and that's it. Safeties have to make a lot of adjustments and get people in the right places to make plays. Thus, communication is key. Before Saturday's practice, coach Pat Shurmur said Riley has done a nice job and "understands the calls he has to make."
"I think it's important that safeties, number one, have to be able to communicate," Shurmur said. "They direct the back end, so you're looking for a guy that has those skills and does it well within our scheme. Obviously, you have to be able to then play what a safety plays. You've got to be able to play half the field, you've got to be able to play quarters, and then you've got to be able to play the middle of the field. And then lastly, you've got to be able to play low, in the box, so you don't always just have a strong or a free. So those are all the things you're looking for."
Riley, as well as the rest of the safeties competing for the job, also have to adjust to where Collins is on any given play – because it could be anywhere.
"If you have one safety that is really, really good at doing one thing, then you compensate with the other safety, kind of overplay him," Shurmur said. "The reality of pro football is if you are going to play shell coverage, which is some form of two-deep whether it's quarters or two, those guys need to both be able to equally play the back half of the field. That's sort of where it starts. From there, one of them screws down into the front and then we'll try to utilize the best assets of the players we have."
While returning Giants had to make the transition from a 4-3 to 3-4 defense under new coordinator James Bettcher, newcomers like Riley didn't have to make a major leap. In Tennessee, Riley played under legendary defensive coordinator and Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back Dick LeBeau.
"He's a legend," Riley said. "He always has a smile on his face. It was a pleasure working with him. I learned a lot from him. Even with the scheme being the same, I can bring everything I learned from him [to] here and just translate it to the field."
So as the safety competition wages on at camp and extends into the preseason games, which begin Aug. 9 for the Giants, keep No. 35 in your mental files. And do you know who else wore that number? You guessed it. The real-life Boobie Miles.