MINERVA There are not many high school seniors who turn down Yale.
Colgate got rejected, too.
And then so did full-ride football scholarships offers to Kent State and Akron and Miami University.
Jake Riley isn’t most people.
Shortly after he went from a 12-year-old to a teenager the Minerva High School senior knew what he wanted to do. He had a higher sense of calling and a responsibility to give back.
Riley knew he wanted to go to the Air Force Academy. On national signing day Wednesday, Riley committed to Air Force. He will play football there and major in engineering of some sort and by the time he graduates in four years —cadets do graduate in four years — he probably will want to spend at least the next five years flying fighter jets.
• Interview with Jake Riley
In college, Riley is likely to be a safety or outside linebacker. Football, really, though is secondary in his mind. His older sister, Adelae, will graduate from the Academy this spring. She’s already been accepted to flight school and she plans to become an F-22 fighter pilot.
“I went there with my parents for a parents’ weekend and there is a level of meaning there and how respectful they all were ... I knew then it was something I wanted to do with my life,” Riley said.
Riley had plenty of options available to him. The Ivy League schools wanted him to play there.
“That was hard to turn that down,” Riley said. “I had to think about it. A lot of people wanted me to go to Harvard or Yale. I’ve always been set on the Air Force and I knew in the end that would be where I decided to go.”
What if Urban Meyer rode in and offered him a chance to play before 110,000 people on Saturdays?
He shook his head.
“It would’ve made my decision very difficult,” he said.
Riley is cut from a different cloth than most 18-year-olds.
He gets it. He is the kind of high school senior who adults get to know and are confident in the future of this country.
When Riley is finished with college, he is required to give the Air Force a five-year commitment. He will be a commissioned second lieutenant in the Air Force upon graduation.
Some time after that, Riley could be flying combat missions.
“I’m very thankful for all I’ve been given in my life,” Riley said. “A lot of that is because of our military. I feel a responsibility to give back. I’m not worried about the next nine years or being in combat. ... Being able to play football here and enjoy the freedoms we have, those are freedoms won with the blood of our soldiers.”
Not just anyone gets into the Air Force Academy. Usually it takes a congressional nomination. Congressman Jim Renacci nominated Riley after an interview.
Riley was in a room with four of Renacci’s assistants. The people asking the questions likely weren’t the smartest ones in the room.
It was the kid from Minerva answering them.
Riley’s 4.0 grade-point average ranks No. 1 in his class. He scored 29 on his ACT.
Academics were never an option for him. His father, Michael, is the principal at the high school. His mother, Shawn, is a social worker. His oldest sister, Hannah, graduated from Wittenberg and helped it win a national championship in volleyball. Adelae will be flying fighter jets.
And then there’s younger brother, Josiah, who will lead the Lions next year.
“Academics were both spoken and implied in our home,” Riley said. “Both of my parents have done a good job of inspiring us.”
As if his sense of duty, his athleticism and academic accomplishments aren’t enough, there’s something else you should know about Jake Riley.
He is heavily involved in community service. For the last two years he has been a mentor to three grade-school age students in the Minerva district. It is the Big Lion, Little Lion program that pairs an elementary school student with a high school mentor. The younger student usually comes from a broken home or is having some issue in life that he or she needs mentoring help.
“At first you start out and you see them as a child,” Riley said. “Then as you spend more time with them, they’re like a little brother. I think I’ve gotten more out of it than them because it’s helped me to really appreciate everything in my home life. Some of these kids have tough childhoods and you can’t imagine going through some of the things they go through.”
Most 18-year-olds don’t find that appreciation, or what’s more, recognize the suffering of others.
Then again, most 18-year-olds don’t turn down Harvard and Yale.
Some of them are better than even the Ivy League. Those are the ones who end up leading our country and protecting our freedoms.