By Jesse Muñoz/COC Sports Information Director
College of the Canyons Athletic Hall of Famer and former UCLA and Houston Oilers linebacker Avon Riley, who starred for the Cougars during the 1977 and 1978 seasons, has passed. Riley was 62.
"The COC athletic department and Hall of Fame committee are deeply saddened to learn of the loss of Avon Riley," said Chuck Lyon, COC Dean of Physical Education & Kinesiology and Athletics. "Riley's exploits on the football field, which were extensive, pale in comparison to the exemplary person he was and the shining example he set for all who knew him. We extend our most sincere condolences to the entire Riley family."
Riley, a 6-foot-4-inch and 200-pound linebacker, started his Cougar career in the fall of 1977 by recording double-digit tackles and recovering a fumble to lead COC's all-freshmen defensive unit to a season-opening victory in just his first collegiate game.
Three games later Riley, a Savannah, Georgia transplant, was in the box score again, this time recovering a key fumble near the Cougars' goal line to help preserve COC's 35-21 victory over No. 8 nationally ranked Ventura College.
In fact, a read through of the team's fall 1977 newspaper coverage finds references to Riley's heroics in nearly every article.
"Riley was a standout," mentioned former head coach and fellow COC Athletic Hall of Famer Larry Reisbig after one game. "Vicious hits by Avon Riley" noted one sports writer after another contest.
Following the 1977 season Riley was selected All-Western State Conference (WSC) First-Team. At the college's annual Fall Sports Award Banquet that year he was honored with the Most Outstanding Linebacker Award and named a team co-captain.
In the fall of 1978, local pundits predicted that COC's defense, which returned nine starters, could be the best in school history. "(Avon Riley) is a truly punishing tackler with great mobility," said COC defensive coordinator Chuck Ferrero in a preseason interview.
Once again, virtually every game recap of the 1978 season would mention the exploits of Avon Riley. Whether it was a reference to "jarring tackles," COC's defensive "ring of terror" or descriptions of more tangible stats like blocked kicks, interceptions and quarterback sacks, Riley's name was mentioned each and every week.
In his final game as a Cougar, Riley finished the same way he started — by posting 15 tackles and a fumble recovery to earn Player of the Week honors. "Riley was awesome, unstoppable," Reisbig said after the game.
A unanimous All-WSC First-Team selection at the conclusion of the season, Riley was also a 1978 All-State Second-Team honoree. He was named a team co-captain and won the Most Outstanding Linebacker Award for a second time.
At the conclusion of his COC career, Riley accepted a full athletic scholarship to UCLA. Playing under head coach Terry Donahue, the talented linebacker ranked among the team leaders in tackles in 1979 and 1980, while earning All-PAC 10 honors his senior season.
In 1980 Riley was also awarded the UCLA Paul I. Wellman Memorial Award for All-Around Excellence.
Following a successful collegiate career Riley was selected by the Houston Oilers in the ninth round of the 1981 NFL Draft.
He went on to play six seasons (1981-86) with the Oilers, before a one-year stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Riley concluded his NFL career in 1987 after appearing in 91 career games. He registered 6.5 sacks, three interceptions and six fumble recoveries along the way.
Riley was enshrined in the COC Athletic Hall of Fame on January 30, 2015 in a ceremony at the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center located at the college's Valencia campus in Santa Clarita, Calif.
"Avon's presence filled the room that evening and his touching words during the induction ceremony were among the more memorable highlights," said Jesse Muñoz, COC Sports Information Director. "His comments continue to stand out in my mind as one of the most powerful moments in the history of the Athletic Hall of Fame."
Upon retiring from football, Riley found a second career working with students as a substance abuse monitor in the Houston Independent School District. He served in that position for 25 years, mentoring young men and women to overcome obstacles, seek fulfillment and achieve their goals.
Often affectionately referred to as "big man" by those who knew him, Riley remained concerned about young people and was a vigorous supporter of youth athletics and education in both Savannah, Georgia and Houston, Texas.
"If you ever met Avon, you would never forget him," read a statement posted by the Riley family. "He was a big man with an even bigger heart and always greeted you with a big smile. He was articulate, carried himself with dignity and treated everyone with kindness."
Services for Riley will be held beginning at 2 p.m. (PST) Friday, July 10, 2020 in Sugar Land, Texas. Live-stream viewing is available here.