Riney brings the classroom to the locker room
Joe Everett | Friday, November 9, 2018
Jeff Riney’s Notre Dame story is fairly orthodox. His impact upon Notre Dame’s football program has been anything but.
Starting from a young age, the senior punter fell in love with Notre Dame. Then, the Katy, Texas, native gradually grew to dream about playing for the Irish, even after recognizing that he’d likely be behind current Notre Dame punter and graduate student Tyler Newsome.
“I’ve been a Notre Dame fan since I was a little kid. My parents went to Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s — the classic Notre Dame-Saint Mary’s couple,” Riney said. “Went to tons of Notre Dame games … I never saw a winning game growing up until I got to high school, until Notre Dame played Rice. That’s when I was starting to get pretty serious into kicking, and I remember [thinking] that if I got into Notre Dame I would be behind Tyler Newsome. I saw him as an idol at one point, and now I’m kind of living the experience of what it’s like.”
Riney said he has no regrets in choosing to play at Notre Dame as a back-up.
“It’s definitely a story of hard work, a lot of dedication and a lot of help from my parents … but I could not have asked for a better college experience,” he said.
Riney’s connection with Newsome goes all the way back to offseason workouts during high school football, and Riney said the two have stayed close and are “best friends” within the tight-knit specialist unit.
“Tyler and I both trained with the same guy back in high school,” he said. “He’s such a great guy … he was one of my best friends when I first came onto the team. He showed me around the loop, showed me how to do everything … the specialist bond is something that’s very special. I didn’t expect to keep it from high school, but it carries on — it’s a great group.”
Much more than a football player, Riney is a mechanical engineer with a love for innovation and entrepreneurship. In fact, this past semester Riney was part of a team — “Enlighten Mobility” — that earned the grand prize at the 2018 McCloskey New Venture Competition, hosted by Notre Dame’s Idea Center. For Riney, getting to pursue so many of his various passions has been a blessing at Notre Dame, and something that sets him apart.
“I’ve always considered myself more of a student than an athlete, and I just love the fact that I’ve just gotten to get super close with some of the normal students on campus,” Riney said. “About a year-and-a-half ago, I joined this place called the Idea Center on campus, and they filled me in on tons of things that I love doing. I’m majoring in engineering, but I love creation, I love design and I love the startup mentality. They plugged me in on so many things. Fulfilling that part of my life was so helpful, and it was cool because I got to talk about it to other football players, who didn’t even know that the Idea Center existed. I got to be my own type of leader. … Talking about life after football, and getting them excited about joining a company or starting something, so it was cool, kind of an eye-opening experience for me.”
It’s in the small and unorthodox ways that Riney has slowly built himself into a leader on the team — a role that he feels he can comfortably play now as a senior, and one from which he receives a tremendous amount of fulfillment.
“I never pictured myself as a leader in the football environment,” Riney said. “ … When I became a senior, freshmen would come up to me with questions, asking ‘How do you do this?’ or ‘When do I go to turn my stuff in?’ It was cool, because I know how helpful that is. I remember being afraid to ask questions and afraid of sounding dumb. Being someone who could provide those answers — there have been a couple parents on the team who have come up to me and said, ‘Thank you so much for helping my son get through the first weeks of camp … if it weren’t for you he would’ve really struggled with it.’ That really meant a lot to me.”
Ultimately, Riney said his family is to thank for all the memories and experiences he has gained during his four years of playing football at Notre Dame, and knows he will always cherish uniting these two significant aspects of his life
“Obviously I’ve grown so much as a person since I’ve gotten here, but luckily my family has been able to come up to a lot of games, and I think sharing this experience with my family … before the game, after the game … it’s so cool,” Riney said. “Those little pieces are going to stick with me forever, every time I see it, it’ll remind me of a game I played in, and the nine years of my life that I spent dedicated to becoming an athlete. A lot of memories, a lot of life lessons, a lot of growth, but I think the memories I shared with my family by far will be the best.”