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Collected wisdom: How Jim Riley turned his life around

Former Oklahoma football star now runs an addiction outreach ministry.
by Jenni Carlson Published: September 8, 2012

Jim Riley cannot imagine his life without football. It took him to amazing heights, playing for Oklahoma, then for the Miami Dolphins during their glory days of the early 1970s. But along the way, he was also introduced to the substances that would leave him addicted to alcohol and drugs.

Clean and sober since 1985, Riley now runs an addiction recovery outreach ministry with his wife, Robin.

I was an oil-field kid. We weren't really embraced by the community. We were kind of looked at as, “Oh, the little oilie kids.” But football gave you a way out of that. You could have your own identity.

Football was where I found myself.

When I was a sophomore in high school at Bristow ... I was a wrestler and a football player. But I was 5-foot-10, 165 pounds. I wrestled at 157 pounds. I thought wrestling was going to be my sport. I had taken third at state as a sophomore, and I was all pumped up about that.

My dad came in and said we were being transferred to Enid, and Enid had no wrestling program at that time. I went to my football coach there at Bristow and told him what happened, and here's what he said to me. He said, “Son, you'll never play for Enid High. You're not big enough. You're not strong enough. You're not fast enough. I'm not even sure you could start for me next year. But good luck.”

Two years later ... I'm 6-foot-3. I'm 225 pounds. I'm a high school All-American, the first one out of Enid.

I got a high school All-American jacket. I got it, like, in April and it was leather with wool. Hot. And I put that jacket on and borrowed my mom's car and I drove to Bristow and I went to see that coach. I said, “I'm the one that you said probably wouldn't make Enid's team.” He goes, “Yeah, probably the reason I went 4-6 last year.”

From that day on, that guy became a friend of mine. I bet he came to half of the home games I played at OU, and he was at both Super Bowls.

He had encouraged me. What that was was a challenge. Everybody likes a challenge if you have anything to you.

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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