FORMER PRESENTATION College San Fernando and Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) standout footballer Kareem "Enzo" Riley graduates with a BSc in legal studies (honours) in a special virtual graduation on Sunday.
Because of the global covid19 pandemic, FGCU, like many other universities across the United States, is holding its graduation ceremonies online.
Riley returned to TT in mid-March to be with his family during the downtime and did his remaining examinations electronically.
He will graduate alongside almost 2,000 students at FGCU’s virtual graduation with a 3.76 grade point average (GPA).
The 22-year old completed the four-year degree in three years, having fast-tracked his programme by doing several summer courses. He is planning to begin his masters at Florida International University in August.
Riley, a former Couva East Secondary student, won several secondary school football titles with 'Pres' during his five-year (2012-2017) stay. A central defender, was offered a sport scholarship by the University of North Carolina (UNC) scheduled to begin in January 2018.
However, after completing form six in July 2017, Riley did not plan to wait six months. Impressed by his natural sporting talent and academic prowess, FGCU swiftly offered him a sport scholarship, and he started there two months later.
He said the tropical climate in Florida and the fact that FGCU’s assistant coach was a TT national also played a part in his choice. FGCU was also playing division one football and ranked among the top 25 teams. He quickly became a first-team starter in his freshman year and said he adapted easily.
“Leaving TT to play football abroad was a definite step up, it was another level of football,” he said. “Starting from freshman year I played most of the games, similarly in the second year.
"I even captained the team in my third year at FGCU. Knowing there were more senior/older guys before me, to captain them was an honour. Being an international player, from the Caribbean, it meant a lot to me.”
In 2018, Riley’s team won the Atlantic Sun Conference (ASUN) League title, made it into the championship game in 2019 but lost the final against New Jersey Institute of Technology. He also made several first and second team all-conference selections.
Riley also shone brightly in the classroom. In his second year, he was the only student in his conference selected to the Google Cloud All-District Academic Team thanks to his impressive GPA. He was also a regular star-student, having been chosen to FGCU’s Dean’s List and President’s List three times each.
Selection for the dean’s list meant Riley maintained a 3.5 GPA in three semesters. To earn a spot on the president’s list, he achieved three 'perfect' semesters with a flawless 4.0 GPA.
“Having that foundation my parents instilled in me at a young age really helped me a lot to maintain a drive to be successful. I just wanted to prove to them and soon reward them for their efforts. Anything I do, I want to do it at a high level. That was my main drive and it’s working out for me. It was definitely challenging to complete my studies in a shorter duration but I welcome challenges,” he said.
Riley has been preparing himself mentally for his masters programme. However, the global pandemic has prevented him from participating in a month-long training programme with a top Major League Soccer (MLS) club. Although he believes this is a crucial missed opportunity in his football development, he remains confident another favourable offer lies on the horizon, post-covid19.
Riley represented TT and captained the 2013 Under-15 team at the Torneo Internacional Copa de Las Americas in Colombia. He again wore the captain’s armband at the Under-17 level and was a part of the national Under-20 team.
Although Riley values his stints as a national youth player, he believes coach/administrator/athlete professionalism is much needed to return this country’s football to the top tier.
“Professionalism is the main difference in the US. Everyone is organised, the work ethic is impeccable, because everyone worked harder, the intensity, the football was faster, overall almost everyone was technically sound, from goalkeeper to forward. It was a total step up for me. In my first year at FGCU, I made Freshman Team of the Year. We need to return professionalism to our local circuit,” he declared.
For his many successes thus far, Riley acknowledged his parents, Presentation College’s teachers and coaches Sean Cooper, Dunstan and Brian Williams and those at FGCU.
He concluded, “If I decide to go play pro, I may have to leave (his masters degree course) in January/February (2021) when the pre-season starts in the US. I don’t mind playing in the US but I prefer Europe. But if I get a job that’s more beneficial to me on a long-term perspective, I would easily get into the legal field. I love football but I’m also academically inclined, so I have these two choices.”