SALISBURY, MD – We are starting a new WBOC web series called “Interview of the Week.” Each week I will interview a local sports figure on Delmarva. Today, we go to Salisbury to find out a little more about Parkside football head coach Brendan Riley.
The 34-year-old has been leading the Rams since 2006. As a head football coach, Riley has a record of 33-44. He has also coached the wrestling and track and field team during his time at Parkside high school.
1. Were you born and raised on Delmarva? Where did you go to college? Did you play any sports in college? What was that experience like?
I was born in Washington D.C. and grew up outside of DC in College Park, Maryland about 10 minutes away from the University of Maryland. I attended St. Vincent Pallotti high School and played football, baseball and wrestling. I was selected all county in both baseball and football as well as All WCAC (which is the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference). I lived in Prince Georges County up until the age of 20. At the age of 20, I decided to start living down on The Shore full time while attending Salisbury University in order to better prepare myself for football. I played both baseball and football at Salisbury my freshman year but an injury took baseball out of the picture so I concentrated on football. Playing football at Salisbury University was a great and a demanding experience. Many people thought they were athletes but the college ranks certain sorts that out. I played at a time of rebuilding at Salisbury. Coach Sherman Wood and the Salisbury coaches were trying to restructure a program that had fallen off a bit; they demanded excellence and perfection from us and we responded. We worked hard and held each other accountable. The defense was stout and the offense was high powered. We believed we were the best team in the country and we worked to prove it. I finished my time at Salisbury as a two-time All Conference Offensive lineman and a Bobby Richards Award Winner. Overall the education, the people I have been fortunate to meet and experience of playing college sports at Salisbury University was and continues to be a source of strength in my life every day.
2. How did you get involved with coaching and why do you love it?
Number one, I love this game but my first coaching experience (believe it or not) was coaching girls CYO basketball for my little sister’s team but that was just to help out and be a solid older brother. Coach Doug Fleetwood told me one day, while I was a floundering trying to figure out what I should do about a major that I needed to stop fighting the fact that I was going to be a coach and teacher. For whatever reason, I listened and that started me down the path of education and coaching. Coach Wood game me my first job as a strength coach, offensive line and liaison to visiting teams (which was not easy for someone who just stopped playing). I loved it; preparing, watching film, getting guys to believe in themselves, work towards a common goal, figuring out what makes someone push to be greater than they believe. I was hooked from then on. Working with young adults is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world. Naturally, I believe in competition and I think football is an excellent avenue of teaching skills that are essential to development in the “real world”. It teaches sacrifice, discipline, desire, selflessness and teamwork. I do this for my kids. All the students at Parkside are my kids and I take the role very seriously. I demand excellence and dedication in all aspects and my kids know that I have their back. I think young people today get overlooked and are forced to grow up so fast. They need safety nets and my coaches and I are here for them in all cases and situations. Football allows me to make connections with kids that otherwise might not have a chance to be a part of something that builds them up in the ways that this game allows you to. It’s a great game, the fans the community the smells and the characteristics just make football unlike anything else.
3. When I say Parkside Football, what does that mean to you? What’s the definition of Parkside Football?
Parkside Football means selflessness, dedication and discipline. We want to be program that when people look at the collective group of student athletes we have they see a team who will consistently fight and never give up. A physically powerful team that wins in the trenches. A fast flowing and aggressive defense that swarms to the ball. A methodical and organized offense that takes what they can get 3 to 5 yards at a time and an efficient and solid team approach to special teams play. I would like Parkside to be associated with the word “class” as well. Sportsmanship is something that is essential to teach in our society today. People like Coach Gibson at Bennett inspire me to be a better human being and a class act. Bennett Football for example to me is a class act and have great kids and great program for young people. I would like to Parkside football to be considered a classy program; blue collar and hardworking but with a touch of class because I think it’s important to be tough and work hard but also be a person who can eat with a knife and fork.
4. What are your short and long term goals as the head football coach at Parkside?
Short term goals as we come into this season are similar to the goals we had last season: win the city championship, win the south, compete with the north and put ourselves in position to be in the playoff hunt. We are working on our goals. Bayside Conference football has gotten better each and every year, we have to take things one game at time and really work on fine tuning ourselves. The 2A East conference is no walk in the ball park. You aren’t winning four games and making it in. So we have to prepare diligently and effectively. Long term, I would like for Parkside’s football to garner the same level of respect that other programs in the state and region have. A playoff contender year in and year out, win a regional championship and be in position to compete for state championships and eventually win a State championship. I think there are fantastic student athletes on the shore and in particularly in Wicomico County. Students that come to Parkside high school will be pushed to be the best. My coaches and I are dedicated to developing better young men to become successful in whatever field they desire to strive to be; college, job or militarily. We are preparing these young men to be better fathers, husbands and men of character, honor and integrity and it is my greatest hope that the lessons these young men get will be utilized for a lifetime.
5. It seems like every season Parkside has a running back that steals the headlines. This season its Trajon Branch. What’s your secret, how do you keep producing great backs year after year?
The secret is there is no secret. We have great athletes at Parkside High and in Wicomico County; kids that can compete with anyone around the state and region. Trajon is a very tough runner and he has excellent vision. We can only accentuate what a student athlete has in their toolbox. Trajon has had a tremendous desire to prove he belongs in the discussions of top performers in the Bayside Conference and I think he is doing an excellent job of making a case for himself. I do think we have a great combinations of student athletes that make a great running game. Our offensive lineman are fast and strong. We want kids that have a tremendous desire to be who they are and if they are lineman to be the best lineman they can be. I also think we have excellent coaches. Charlie Holmes is our running backs coach and Tashe Williams is our offensive line coach; two men of high integrity and desire- both of whom have NFL experience. I am not sure how many teams around the region can say that. My offensive coordinator Allen Mitchell does an excellent job of getting kids in a position to be successful and has an excellent plan of attack for our opponents. The entire offense staff is selfless- we all have input and make things work together as a unit. Our system works for running backs and we work hard to train running backs and offensive lineman to be outstanding. We have some great kids here and many more to come.
6. Since you have been coaching at Parkside, how do you think the overall perception of Bayside Conference football has changed from people across the bridge?
Overall when I first started coaching down here, I think the perception of the Bayside Conference was that they play football but overall they are not very good. Talented but unable to compete with kids around the region. Really there were many who were like yeah they play football over there but it is not good football, which honestly irritated me because I knew how much talent existed over here. Many guys I played with at Salisbury were from the schools around here and I knew they had talent. Over the past eight years, I think coaches around the state in both high schools and in colleges are recognizing the ability of the student athletes that play in the Bayside Conference. All we have to look at is the Maryland Crab Bowl games over the past four years to see the impact that Bayside players have had in one of the state All Star Games. Nelson Brown, Tyler German, L.J Flournoy, Shawnye Jones, Jock Simon, Nick Craven, DJ Kee, Derrick Hayward, Dalonte Waters, Tavon Thomas, Tory Wilson, Evan Greenwood-all kids (I am leaving some off because there are so many) who have gone on to play at the next level and at multiple levels D1A, D1AA, D2 to D3. Bayside football players are doing great things. Their coaches are holding them to a high standard and collectively the message is clear that we can compete. We have tons of student-athletes on the shore and I am fortunate and bless to have the opportunity to help any and all kids get a chance to make it that truly have a desire and the ability to make it into contest like the Crab Bowl.
I think that there is a starting to be a tremendous amount of respect for the Bayside Conference in general. All coaches around the region are doing great things for their kids to get exposure and compete with teams. I see coaches traveling to take kids to college exposure camps and combines. At Parkside, we make the commitment to making sure that those kids who have a desire to go to camps find ways to make it to them even if that means we have to take them ourselves. Football recruiting is a nonstop thing. It is happening all the time and evaluations and face time in front of college coaches is crucial for athletes to have success. I think of Queen Anne’s, Kent Island, Bennett, Stephen Decatur and Cambridge whom travel to play teams around the region have done a superb job of putting the Bayside Conference on the map during season play. They play teams from all over the state. In some cases their proximity to the bridge certainly helps but the fact all of these teams go and compete with these other teams has carried the banner of the Bayside Conference. The Bayside Conference is becoming stronger. Coaches are improving every year and their kids are benefitting from it. It truly is an exciting time to be a fan of high school football.
7. You just became a first time father recently. How has that helped or changed you as a coach and mentor to your players?
It has dramatically changed my whole outlook on everything. I work harder and try to prepare more efficiently. I rely more on the people around me. My wife and I are truly blessed to have been given the gift of being parents and it has given me more perspective than I ever realized it would. The little things that drove me nuts at times I just don’t have time to be concerned about as much and that has made my thinking clearer. I feel like I know what is more important in the long run than just the game of football. I have felt like a father to a lot of my kids in the past but the bond of flesh and blood is powerful. Kids need positive influence now more than ever especially with the dangers of social media so my coaches and I try to provide structure and security for our kids and build positive relationships with all of our kids to make them better people. I tell the kids now as a father of a girl it is even more important that I make a concentrated effort to make these young men into people that other fathers will be proud to call them their sons especially if down the line they have the good fortune of being men who decided at some point to get married.
8. What advice would you give to high school student-athletes hoping to play any sport at the collegiate level?
Number one: BE REALISTIC. Not everyone is able to play division one sports so stop listening to the hype and love the game first and foremost. If you love the game it does not matter what level you playing at. Everyone that is playing at the college level is somewhere else’s all-star and all county. What are you doing to prepare yourself?-training, diet, g.p.a. community service, character and integrity all aspects are being evaluated about you…make sure you can meet the challenge.
Number two: Keep your grades the priority. Student athlete’s schedules are hectic. Stay focused and grounded on the aspects of academics. Any college program is a grind; both mentally and physically. Be prepared.
Number three: Visit schools early and often. Find out about the colleges before you just decided that Notre Dame is the place you want to be. Go the camps, call coaches and meet players from the actual squad. Evaluate everything and again Rule number one-BE REALISTIC
Number four. Make sure if sports doesn’t work out that the college you are going to you would be ok with being there regardless of whether or not you play sports. Do they offer majors you are interested in? What are the class sizes? How the academics is compare to other places on your list.
Number five. Communicate with your parents and coaches. There are lots of people who care about you as a person ask their opinions and value the information they give. Some of the best advice is the stuff you don’t want to hear.