Artwork for podcast Best of Johnston County
Building Community Through Football: A Conversation with Scott Riley
Episode 1512th February 2024 • Best of Johnston County • Jonathan Breeden
00:00:00 00:33:13

Share Episode


Join me as I sit down with Scott Riley, the head football coach at Cleveland High School, on the latest episode of The Best of Johnston County Podcast. We discuss his journey to Johnston County, what makes a great leader, and how he continues to produce winning teams year after year. We also delve into his love for coaching in Johnston County and the sense of community that has been built around the Cleveland High School football program. 

Don't miss this inspiring conversation with a dedicated coach who is making a difference in the lives of his players.


Jonathan Breeden: [:

Scott Riley: Yeah. And I think there is a good core of teachers in the building that have been there since the, we were going through and counting another day. But we have a good. Good continuity of mix. And what I really like is, I think, you know, talking about community in Johnston County is, you know, Johnston County has a strong community and there there's the, towns, but Cleveland isn't really technically a town,

Jonathan Breeden: correct.

Scott Riley: And it w it was something that was kind of lacking when we first opened it. We really, we didn't have a community feel. People just lived here and worked, but I think the high school has helped in that and the success of sports teams has helped build that. But I think there's, a feel of a building community.

Each year, it seems a little bit better and stronger because you're, you're building alumni. And now we have several teachers that were former graduates. That was one thing that was always a struggle when we first started was. You know, a lot of people get support for the schools from their alumni. Well, there wasn't any alumni,

Jonathan Breeden: [:

Scott Riley: We had. And now we have three coaches on staff, three of our 10 coaches on staff this year. We've had up to five in past years that were graduates of Cleveland high school. So, and I think there's, I mean, four or five other teachers in the building that went to Cleveland high. So we were starting to build that community and every Friday night, you see more faces coming back that, played for us or or grew up watching this right. So I'm going to build a Cleveland community.

Narrator: Welcome to another episode of Best of Johnston County, brought to you by Breeden Law Office. Our host, Jonathan Breeden, an experienced family lawyer with a deep connection to the community, is ready to take you on a journey through the area that he has called home for over 20 years. Whether it's a deep dive into the love locals have for the county or unraveling the complexities of family law, Best of Johnston County presents an authentic slice of this unique community.

have our guest, Scott Riley, [:

Some things about what makes a great leader and how he continues to produce winning teams year after year and what he loves about coaching in Johnston County. Welcome, Scott.

Scott Riley: Thanks for having me.

Jonathan Breeden: Hey, no problem. Let's start with a little bit about your background. Where you from? Where you grow up?

Scott Riley: From this area in general the Cary Raleigh area, kind of like Cleveland, an unincorporated area.

Jonathan Breeden: Okay.

Scott Riley: So outside of Cary, but it's a Raleigh mailing address. So in this area, kind of knows how that works. But and then, I went to Cardinal Gibbons High School.

Jonathan Breeden: Oh, okay.

Scott Riley: So now my rival.

Jonathan Breeden: Oh my gosh. That's right, that is your big rival.

Scott Riley: And I went and played football at Washington Jefferson in Pennsylvania for two years and then transferred back and graduated from Carolina, which I know that's.

Jonathan Breeden: Oh, man. Hard feeling, but yeah, sore subject for me as NC State graduate.

Scott Riley: So it was hard to be out of the state and North Carolina is where I needed to be. So I came back

Jonathan Breeden: uh,

Scott Riley: home.

Jonathan Breeden: Okay. So [:

Scott Riley::

Jonathan Breeden: Okay. So what was your degree?

Scott Riley: American history, so,

Jonathan Breeden: Alright.

Scott Riley: And I was actually applied and got accepted to law school, was gonna be a lawyer. I don't think you know about me, but then, I just really couldn't give up the football aspect of it. And the easiest way to stay involved is coaching. So, not necessarily a popular decision with, some people in the family, but because of the difference in income, but gave up going to law school and gotten to teach it instead.

Jonathan Breeden: Okay. So where did you get I guess, I mean, at some point you had to do student teaching and get a teaching certificate. Where'd you do that at?

Scott Riley: Yeah, I did a lateral entry and got hired initially as an ESL.

Jonathan Breeden: Okay.

Scott Riley: I did that for just six weeks, and then history opening came open, matter of fact, the another football coach, he was our defensive coordinator at the time, and he taught American history and world history.

He was in the army reserves and he got called to Iraq, it was during that time period. So, I filled in history and that's why I ended up getting certified while I was teaching, there at Harnett Central.

Jonathan Breeden: [:

Scott Riley: There. So when you do lateral entry, you teach and they come and observe you.

Jonathan Breeden: That's true. Right. You just have to sort of figure it out.

Scott Riley: I did it through Campbell University, but while I was teaching at Harnett Central.

Jonathan Breeden: Oh, cool. All right. So is that when you started coaching football at Harnett Central?

Scott Riley: Yep. So that's what got me involved in coaching and really coaching is what got me involved in teaching. As well as that passion for football and coach wrestling and football. They are essential, we were there for six years as a staff and then when Cleveland opened, it was, our staff was pretty close knit football wise and we kind of wanted to stay together.

So that's what was unique about Cleveland being a brand new school, led for opportunity for a lot of us, almost the whole staff came over from Harnettt Central to Cleveland.

Jonathan Breeden: So who were some of the teachers that were on that staff at Harnett Central?

Scott Riley: Mark Morris was the head football coach at Harnett Central. His first year as head coach was me and Joseph Caps, who's

Jonathan Breeden: Still there.

Riley: Still there, he's the [:

Jonathan Breeden: Okay.

Scott Riley: And then right before we left Travis Gasser, who's the head football coach at Princeton High School now, he was on staff as our linebacker coach. Wayne Stewart, he still comes back, he's an assistant principal in Wake County now.

Jonathan Breeden: Okay.

Scott Riley: But he still comes back on Friday nights and meets with us on Sunday and helps with planning and strategy.

Jonathan Breeden: Oh, cool.

Scott Riley: He's one of the coaches up in the booth for us.

Jonathan Breeden: Okay.

Scott Riley: But he was our defensive back coach, trying to think who else came with us. Kenny Jones, who's still with us at Cleveland, he's our running back coach.

Jonathan Breeden: Okay.

Scott Riley: Our running back coach at Harnett Central. So, Bill Weirich, who's the defensive coordinator at Harnett Central, he stayed there cause he lived more towards the Fayetteville area. Everyone else kind of lived more to that Johnson County side.

Jonathan Breeden: Right.

Scott Riley: So we were all able to come over.

Jonathan Breeden: Oh, so what year was that?

Scott Riley::

Jonathan Breeden: Yes, I remember that.

Scott Riley: And, we had a great team coming back, I think the majority of the team, I think we had like 19 returning starters from the 22 that lost by a point in the state championship game. And then this job came open and Mark was interested in it and we're like, why don't you go and you deal with just the JV's for you. We'll come next year after we win a ring. But it was too good of opportunity to pass up. And so we all came over and started this program together.

Jonathan Breeden: Right. And so Mark Morris was at Cleveland for two years, three years.

Scott Riley: He was there for four years, four years. The first year was just JV. Okay. So three varsity seasons.

Jonathan Breeden: Okay. All right. And then he left and then I guess you were promoted and you became the head coach.

Scott Riley: That's right. So several of the guys that came, a few of them went, another one that came from Harnett Central with us was Ken Shoemaker coach Shoemaker, coach Gaster and coach Morris all left to go to South Carolina. Coach Gasser came back a year later and he came back to Princeton.

Jonathan Breeden: Okay.

ris are still there in South [:

Jonathan Breeden: So when did you become the head coach at Cleveland?

Scott Riley: It was:

Jonathan Breeden::

Scott Riley: This is the:

Jonathan Breeden: Okay.

Scott Riley: This year was the 10th season.

Jonathan Breeden: This was the 10th season, golly. And there were two seasons in one year with Covid.

Scott Riley: Yes. . That got real confusing.

Jonathan Breeden: That was a lot of high school football. I can tell you what, that's when you almost won the whole thing. But anyway so. that's amazing. Because one of the reasons I think you've had a success is it's the continuity of this staff.

And I didn't know all these other coaches, but I know Coach Caps have been there with you from the beginning.. And it sounds like you and him go back to Harnett Central.

Scott Riley: Yeah. So, me and him both just finished our 20th year coaching. Six at Harnett Central, 14 here at Cleveland. So, and we've always coached together. That continuity, and then within Cleveland, he's always coached offense, I've always coached defense.

st on the high school level, [:

You know, Garner had a great run and they had the same coaches going all the way back from Earl Smith to yeah, Carl Stuart and all through there with all the same guys that all correct together for all that time, you see the same thing at Wake Forest, they've had the same staff 20, 30 years.

Jonathan Breeden: Right.

Scott Riley: That continuity, you see it even at Cardinal Gibbons that's been together for 15 plus years. Ours has been, the core of it has been together for quite a while.

Jonathan Breeden: So, I mean, yeah, for all of you listening, I own a business I marvel at your ability to keep the staff together because, you know, it's kind of unique. Like you all coach together, but you all work for the school system and the Principal. So not only do you all have to get along as a staff, but you have to be good enough Educators that you keep your job and that the Principal is happy with your job as Educators first, and then your football Coach is second.

explain how all of that goes [:

Scott Riley: Right. I think when you get down to it, it's all the same job. You're teaching kids Sometimes you're teaching them football, sometimes are you teaching them biology? But you can either connect with them and teach them or you can't, so it's one thing I learned from coach Morris and how he built us the staff, it's better to have a good teacher than it is to have a good coach, because if you can teach, the only thing that's missing is the football knowledge.

So, you know, bringing people that are good teachers and that's going to fulfill the needs that the principal wants to have.

Jonathan Breeden: Correct.

Scott Riley: And it's going to fulfill your needs on the football field as well. So we always try to find, when we interview new people to bring him on board we focus on that aspect of it.

And then the principals realize that too. So it's not just, Hey, I want this football coach in this position.

Jonathan Breeden: Right.

Scott Riley: We [:

So, um, you know, we try to hire good teachers first and they also ended up being good coaches.

Jonathan Breeden: So how many football coaches are there?

Scott Riley: It varies from year to year. So typically we have about 10 that are on staff, not all of them are paid, but the ones that are paid, aren't paid a whole lot.

So it doesn't create a big distinction, but the County only has so many resources you know, we fill all the supplements and then we get some volunteers and do those kinds of things.

Jonathan Breeden: Are there rules about how many coaches you can have? It's kind of like in college, like there can only be, I think, 11 full time coaches in college or something.

Scott Riley: No. In Johnston County, it's more district regulated. You get so many paid assistant positions in Johnston County. You get the head coach and then six paid assistants, and then anyone else can't be paid. So even if you know, someone wanted to pay him on the side, right. That's not allowed.

Jonathan Breeden: [:

Scott Riley: Yeah. Well, a lot of continuity. So when I was an assistant, she was an assistant Principal, Ms. Salisbury. And she left and went to the middle school for a couple of years. And Mr. Bird, who obviously,

Jonathan Breeden: I know Mr. Bird, he was very good Principal.

Scott Riley: So he was there for a few years and then he moved up the County office as an assistant superintendent now, and she came back from middle school.

So we've had a lot of continuity there. And Mr. Bird was a great Principal and his son is obviously a very good football player, his son is an excellent football player, jackson Bird, the quarterback.

ury, she came back and was it:

Scott Riley: That sounds right.

otball team and she's had as [:

Scott Riley: Yeah. And I think there is a good core of teachers in the building that have been there since we were going through and counting another day. But we have a good continuity of mix. And what I really like is, I think, you know, talking about community in Johnston County is, you know, Johnston County has a strong community and there's the towns, but Cleveland isn't really technically a town.

Jonathan Breeden: Correct.

Scott Riley: And it was something that was kind of lacking when we first opened it. We really didn't have a community feel. People just lived here and worked, but I think the high school has helped in that and the success of sports teams has helped build that, but I think there's a feel of a building community.

Each year, it seems a little bit better and stronger because you're building alumni, and now we have several teachers that were former graduates. That was one thing that was always a struggle when we first started was, you know, a lot of people get support for the schools from their alumni, well, there wasn't any alumni.

Jonathan Breeden: Right right, right, right.

es on staff this year. We've [:

So we were starting to build that community and every Friday night, you see more faces coming back that played for us or grew up watching this. So I'm going to build a Cleveland community.

know, I mean, I moved here in:

You know, here at:

But anyway, but yeah, so it's been really good and I think it's also helped that the football team, which is often the face of high school, has been so successful because everybody wants to cheer for a winner.

Scott Riley: Yeah, I think, you know, obviously you get more fans when you're being successful and doing it the right way and that kind of thing. But, you know, high school football, regardless where that is kind of like the new public squares where everyone comes out and hangs out on Friday night and the more successful, the more people come together and hopefully we can continue that and continue to build a greater Cleveland unity.

much fun to go to the games [:

And that just doesn't happen. I mean, clearly that comes from coaching and discipline and stuff like that.

Scott Riley: Yeah. I mean, Obviously I think when you get into coaching at the high school level, you're doing it primarily as a vehicle to teach these guys how to be productive members of the community and how to be good citizens, how to be men.

And there's not a lot of ways to do that in the school building anymore. Cause You got to get the material in and that kind of stuff. So I think almost all of our coaches are doing it for the right reasons. And that, that comes across in the results you put on.

Jonathan Breeden: Right. So, a lot of parents listen to this podcast, how do you get 60 to 70, 14 to 17 year olds running into each other, all going in the same direction?

Scott Riley: It's [:

I think it happens a lot in coaching might happen a lot in the corporate world. I'm not involved, but they see someone be successful and they want to do it just like them. And you end up playing a role rather than being who you are. And I think that it's, if you if I have 10 clones on staff.

We're really only going to connect and reach 10, 15 guys that connects with.

Jonathan Breeden: Oh, I see what you're saying.

nd certain players gravitate [:

And I think. When you can connect to certain guys on a personal level, it really leads to them getting success on the field or in the classroom. So a lot of times a kid's messing up on the field or in the classroom. I don't say a word to them. Cause I know the way I go about things isn't going to resonate with them.

So I'll go and be like, Hey, coach Hughes, can you talk to him for me?

Jonathan Breeden: Okay.

Scott Riley: This is what we need to get done and we all get on the same page, we all have our guys that we connect with.

Jonathan Breeden: Okay.

Scott Riley: So with, you know, 10, 11, 12 guys on staff, you can get to all 120 and get them going in the right direction.

Jonathan Breeden: Oh, okay. I gotcha.

e wise, skill wise. But just [:

Jonathan Breeden: Yeah, no doubt. And so, you practice a lot and you run the same offense and the same defenses every year. So a young man coming into your program, I mean, by the time, you know, and you all start with some of them, even in middle school and pop Warner, they're running some of the similar schemes.

So they're going to learn the same thing. And it's just every year trying to get better with these same 10 or 15 base. Offensive plays in the same three or four base defensive plays, correct?

Scott Riley: Yeah. So you want some continuity there, so they're familiar. Obviously the less they're thinking, the faster they can play.

e refined in the details and [:

We have one staff and you coach that position all through. So you coach JV and varsity, but you coach just defensive back. So you could just linebackers that way. They're getting the same message for four years about how to do that. What your expectations are on you know, on Thursday night, it's going to be the same as there are Friday nights when

Jonathan Breeden: Oh, yeah. Well, that's cool. That's awesome.

Have family law questions? Need guidance to navigate legal challenges? The compassionate team at Breeden Law Office is here to help. Visit us at www. breedenfirm. com for practical advice, resources, or to book a consultation. Remember, when life gets messy, you don't have to face it alone.

, a lot of people, the first [:

And if you took one of them out, Cleveland would still be successful because if the rest of them are there, you know, it's a culture. You build a culture of discipline, hard work, winning, you know, doing things the right way. I mean, that's what you've tried to do. Right?

Scott Riley: Yeah. You know, getting prepared for this little podcast, I was looking up different things about leadership, and one quote, I think I wrote it down, left it in the car, but that I saw that I think really kind of hits home on that point is leadership is about getting people to do the right thing, even when you're not there and then making sure once you leave, they continue on that path.

So, yeah, I think when I retire. You know, Cleveland will be able to roll on. We got a lot of guys like coach Hughes and coach Jacobs, who one coaches wide receivers and one coaches, our offensive line. I was their position coach when I was an assistant at Cleveland.

ring on guys like that, they [:

Jonathan Breeden: So what makes the difference? I mean, you've coached some great players, and there's Amari Hampton who, for those of you all not listing, is now plays for Carolina and I'm a state graduate and a state fan and but I'm a huge Amari Hampton fan. He was one of the top 10 rushers in America this year. He almost certainly will be drafted by the NFL in April of 25.

What, is there anything that makes him or players of that level. And I don't know how many players you've had in the NFL, but he's for sure going to NFL if he doesn't get hurt different than the other players, whether it be God given talent, how hard he works. I mean, stuff like that.

usly the talent is something [:

Jonathan Breeden: Right?

Scott Riley: He has a lot of God given talent, but there are other people around the country that are as big and fast and strong as he is, but there's very few in the whole world that had the work ethic that he does. And I talked to our players about it all the time. You know, you can't put a laser timer in front of it.

You can't measure it at the combine, but you know, perseverance coming through hardship and, you know, some of the injuries he's had but in work ethic are a talent that's probably more important than your 40 time or your bench press, and he's got all that stuff too.

Jonathan Breeden: Right .

Scott Riley: But, to be in an elite level and you're talking about some of the best in the world to play football, you're going to go to the NFL have to have that talent, but they also have to have those hidden talents as well. And he definitely has that.

little frustrated that they [:

I mean, anything you could encourage any words of encouragement or anything like that. Or maybe the young man has to just say, you know what, I'm going to do this. I'm going to buy in and I'm going to do this work.

Scott Riley: Yeah, I think part of it is his, passion for football, he loves football. And you know, from a. My son's going to be at Cleveland high school next year. He's in eighth grade right now. So I try to learn a lot from the great parents that we've had at Cleveland and some of the not so great experiences as well. And I think sometimes parents will push kids down a path that they want to see them go on and not necessarily a pass that they want to be on.

And a morons always wanted to be a football player and love playing football. You know, during like during COVID, we couldn't practice. We couldn't do anything. We lock up the gates and do all that. I was constantly getting calls from the county. Hey there's players out on your field. There's they're practicing.

I'm at home. I'll send you a [:

And he wasn't the only one from that class that senior class was a special class in the fires, how much they love the sport. But I think part of it is he's pursuing what he really loves doing

Jonathan Breeden: And that makes it easier for him to work as hard as it is he's working.

Scott Riley: Right. And like I started with I've, if I had gone into law school, I was kind of doing it to make money. I don't know if I'd have been nearly successful as a lawyer, as I had been in a football coach cause I'm pursuing my passion. And I think when you pursue what you love. It's a lot easier to work hard.

ou know what I mean? And you [:

Scott Riley: And that's what I tell all our guys too, is like, find what you love, and then figure out how to make money doing it. And that's how you make a living.

Jonathan Breeden: Right. That's true.

Scott Riley: But I think he will be able to do that, toting the rock for someone.

Jonathan Breeden: Yeah, I honestly think that he has the talent to probably play in the NFL, the which would be amazing. I mean, cause he could make money that changes entire life and his children's lives and his grandchildren's lives, you know, if you invest it properly and stuff like that. And it's amazing.

And every time you see him on TV and they say Clayton, North Carolina, you know, he's like, you know, I know him, you know, which is awesome. So I guess a couple more questions here and we'll get out of here.

The let's talk about some of the successes. I know, I mean, we should drive some of the Clayton listeners, maybe a little crazy. It is nine conference championships in the 10 years you've been the coach.

Scott Riley: Yes, sir.


Scott Riley::

Jonathan Breeden: Right. So that's like.


Jonathan Breeden: Right. Since the Varsity or the JV have lost a regular season game. So that's. Is it, I mean,

in a row that is? Is that so:

Jonathan Breeden: Right?

Scott Riley: We like seven at the end of the two.

Jonathan Breeden: So like 51 games or something of regular season football.

Scott Riley: Yeah.

, that was the season. Right.:

can't stand Carolina being a [:

The watching some of the Facebook memories and pictures of those kids getting to play in that stadium. You know what I mean? And 99% of them were never going to play in college, but to walk to see those kids get to walk out there from our community and play in one of the great stadiums in America with the music and the lights and everything.

It's just about brings tears to your eyes. And I don't even like Carolina because I knew what it meant to those young men to get the chance to play on that field in that stadium.

t most of us on staff went in:

ike three or four that we've [:

Jonathan Breeden: Right.

Scott Riley: But we feel more pressure as a staff is to get them there to, because when you get there it's something you'll never forget.

Jonathan Breeden: It's awesome. And just some of the pictures I saw and it just was, it was really great kids that were playing for Cleveland. And there was a picture of them standing there and then they were five years old at a Carolina game, you know, one of them said. I made it, you know what I mean? Like it was just that kind of stuff. You know, it just matters. I grew up in Laurenburg, went to Scotland high school. Scotland high school was not all that great when I was a child coming on.

where those kids came from, [:

I saw them win a championship at Wake Forest and get to play in that stadium. And, you know, I know what a memory for those kids it was going to be. And Scotland went on a run there where they played in several state championships in a row, five outta six or something like that. And I just was, I would just smile, even though I didn't know the kids, I knew what it meant because I knew where they were from, I knew the challenges they had grown up with, and they got to go out there and 99% of 'em were never gonna play in a college stadium.

And that's why I'm glad that the colleges, State Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest open their stadiums up and make it possible for that to happen. I know here in the last few years when they cut it back to four championships. They're just a Carolina State. I think they're going to expand that a couple of years and maybe Wake Forest and Duke will get back involved in the rotation.

o you love about teaching in [:

Scott Riley: I think it comes down to people. You know, people are like, are you, you're not loyal. I don't think any person is loyal to a place, but I think you become loyal to the people there.

Jonathan Breeden: So, Miss Salisbury being the Principal there, you know, she's going to have our back and kind of support our program. So you're loyal to those people, the community here. You know, and a lot of times there's opportunities come up, but one of the biggest draws back to Cleveland is the Friday nights.

When we first started out, no one there, no one watching, but now even our sidelines get filled up of guys that have played for us and they come back and. You know, doing all kinds of different things from doctors to roofers, and they're all there together on the sideline you know, telling a kid they've never met before how important it is for them to win this game or to make that catch or whatever it may be.

es, we've been there for the [:

That's awesome. No, and it's so much fun. And if you've not had a chance to go see coming play on Friday night next fall, definitely go out there and do it. It's a lot of passing, a lot of five wide receivers, a lot of points on the board scoreboard up and down the field. It is not old school Big 10 football, I can tell you that. There's no.

Scott Riley: My wife's convinced we lost the hogger cause they were louder. Cause they've got to use horns. So they brought horns. That's right. She's going to buy horns and start passing them out.

fy, YouTube, or our website, [:

They come out every Monday. And you'll be interested to see if you've not listened to some of the previous episodes, but please go back and listen. We've had county commissioners. We've had the parks and rec director. We've had state house members. We now have a high school football coach. So a lot of good guests that have been out there, definitely go back and listen to some of those episodes.

If you do us favor of giving us a five star review down at the bottom of wherever you get this podcast, that'll help. Expand the reach of this podcast. So other people will find out about the best of Johnson County podcast and can learn more about why I and all of the guests love Johnson County till next time.

I'm Jonathan Breeden.

read to the rich tapestry of [:

If the legal aspects highlighted raised some questions, help is just around the corner at www. breedenfirm. com.





More from YouTube