Florida transfer Riles expected to boost O-line
The Hurricanes, who are a preseason top-10 team for the first time since 2005, open the season against LSU on Sept. 2 in Arlington, Texas in the AdvoCare Classic.
BOCA RATON — At one point in his career, Florida Atlantic offensive lineman Antonio Riles was accustomed to playing against future NFL first-round picks on a weekly basis.
Although those days are gone, he is expecting a similar challenge since transferring from Florida during the summer. A graduate student, Riles is eligible immediately and could help the Owls rebuild their offensive line.
“Most of the guys I went against [in the SEC] are in the league now,” Riles said. “There’s guys down here that are really tough, too, but me being in that conference and having that experience, I’m excited to see what I can do for this program.”
Riles, a guard, started six games for the Gators from 2014-17. He was granted a waiver from the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility. He redshirted as a freshman and missed all of 2016 with a knee injury.
His arrival comes when FAU is in need of offensive line help. The Owls lost three starters, including AllConference center Antonyo Woods and guard Roman Fernandez. The other starting guard, Jakobi Smith, is also gone.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do with our offensive line,” FAU coach Lane Kiffin said. “Very little depth. I don’t know the exact numbers. With attrition and some guys quitting, there’s hardly any returners that were here a year ago. I think half of the group is here now. That’s why we brought in guys, including a couple grad transfers. So a lot of work to do there.”
Riles, who said he can play both guard spots, grew interested in the Owls following their success a year ago. He said he didn’t know much about the program other than Kiffin and the school was in Boca Raton.
“I felt like what coach Kiffin can do for me would be a good fit for me,” Riles said. “I knew most of the plays. Some of the stuff was kind of similar so it was an easy transition.”
Riles spent the first two days of training camp working with the second unit. As of now, he is behind BJ Etienne and Nick Weber on the depth chart.
So far, the adjustment has gone smooth for Riles.
“It was a little hard at first,” Riles said. “The workouts were a lot different. It was real tough but it was really good.”
Senior linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair is back practicing after being limited in the spring because of offseason elbow surgery.
Al-Shaair said he will wear a brace during the season but only for precautionary reasons.
“Honestly, it feels almost like it’s never been injured,” Al-Shaair said.
Al-Shaair led the team in tackles the past three seasons and is a preseason AllConference USA first-team pick.
Quarterback Nick Tronti, who transferred from Indiana in the offseason, is with the team but not practicing because of an undisclosed medical issue.
In 2016, Tronti was Mr. Florida, awarded to the state’s top high school player. He has to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules but will have four years of eligibility remaining.