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READ: Riley Riethman: Navy's Unexpected Punter Could Go Down As An All-Time Great

By Gary Lambrecht

When he arrived at the Naval Academy for plebe summer in 2021, Riley Riethman had clear designs on eventually becoming the Midshipmen's top placekicker. He never dreamed he would be mentioned one day as possibly the best punter ever to wear a Navy uniform.

And why not think that way back then? Riethman had torn it up as a kicker – and all-around excellent athlete – at Nolan Catholic High School in Fort Worth, Texas.

As a senior at Nolan, Riethman lettered in four sports and was honored as the school's Male Athlete of the Year. He ran the 400 while earning his only letter in track and field. He got his second of two letters as a self-taught member of the varsity golf team and helped the Vikings win a district title, before finishing as the state runner-up. He completed his fourth varsity soccer season as a defender by being named Second-Team All-State.

Riethman, who got serious about kicking as a freshman at Nolan High – ex-NFL placekicker Scott Blanton coached him throughout his high school years – went out with a bang in Fort Worth in the fall of 2020. The Vikings took home the district crown before falling in the state championship game. He was selected First-Team All-State as a kicker and punter.

Riethman entered Navy as primarily a kicker, having attained a top 15 position in Kohl's national kicker ratings in high school, where he had been used sparingly as a punter.

But soon after joining the academy, Riethman discovered that former Navy kicker Bijan Nichols, then a sophomore destined to become one of the better placekickers in Navy football history, was planted firmly atop the depth chart.

While Riethman envisioned some fierce competition with his new teammate, Navy coaches had other ideas. The Mids needed help at the punter position. Riethman was switched to the punting group. He got more practice sharpening his punting fundamentals and technique during preseason camp than he ever had experienced as a football player.

Thus began Riethman's rapid rise on Navy's depth chart, doing a job he did not see coming. But it was a job he took over in the second game of the 2021 season against visiting rival Air Force, when Riethman split punting duty with fellow freshman Kellen Grave de Peralta, then seized the spot he has never relinquished.

"What was clear early on was the level of talent and maturity Riley had [as a freshman], whether he was kicking or punting," says senior kickoff specialist Evan Warren, who leads the Mids in the specialists' room.

"[Riethman] really championed his punting role," Warren adds. "Things he was not able to do coming into the academy, like turn over a kick end over end, he now does at an incredibly high level. When he says he is not punting well and he needs to fix X, Y or Z, we are looking at him and saying, 'Dude, you are crushing the ball.' He is always looking to tweak something that helps him to get better. Riley does a great job of making punting a science."

With Riethman, a junior majoring in aerospace engineering who began the school year carrying a 3.97 grade point average, much of his life on The Yard is all about doing the work and immersing himself in the science.

The football work is paying off handsomely. The spotlight is shining on Riethman in 2023 in ways he could not have anticipated after he changed special teams roles in the summer of '21.

Following two strong years as Navy's punter, during which Riethman punted a combined 89 times with an impressive 43.4-yard average that included 20 kicks inside the opponents' 20-yard line, 19 punts of at least 50 yards, 21 fair catches and only five touchbacks, Riethman has operated at a higher level in 2023.

He already has been named to the First-Team All-American Athletic Conference by the league's coaches. Through 11 games, Riethman has launched an incredible 75 punts that have covered 3,367 yards. He ranks second among FBS punters in each category. His 44.9-yard career average is a school record, as is his career average of 44.0 yards per punt.

"I've concentrated on developing new skills every year. But consistency is really what matters the most in punting," Riethman says. "I wasn't nearly as consistent last year or my plebe year as it has been this year. The key is not to deviate too much from the norm. Don't hit a booming 60-yarder, then come back with a 25."

"It's tough to quantify a punter's success by looking at one statistic. Punting is very situation-dependent," he adds, alluding to such factors as field position and weather elements. "You have to look at the whole combination of numbers – gross average, net average, how many balls are inside the [opponent's] 20, how many touchbacks. Punting is more natural than kicking and not as mentally challenging, although it's easy to destroy yourself after one bad punt or kick."

Reithman, who by the way says he is nearing scratch golfer status, has produced his share of highlights this fall. They include a career-long, 68-yard bomb in Navy's 17-6 loss to Air Force. His 50.8-yard average in a loss at SMU that marks the second-best, single-game average in program history. He was named to the Ray Guy Award Great 8 weekly honor roll three times this year.

With his impressive leg speed and deft touch that produce good hang time and distance with regularity, Riethman, listed at 5-feet-10, 190 pounds, has helped the Mids cope with an inconsistent offense that has seen four different quarterbacks under center and has averaged barely 18 points per game. He has also flipped the field in astounding ways that have helped a solid adefense work with more yardage cushion behind it.

His exceptionally busy days have come against SMU and Air Force, in which Riethman punted 10 times each. In a 14-0 victory over Charlotte, he launched 11 punts.

"I love watching him punt in practice, and hearing the ball make that [crisp thump] sound behind me as I'm blocking on the punt team, then running down the field, looking up and seeing the ball at least 20 yards ahead of me," says Colin Ramos, Navy's junior linebacker and the Mids' other All-AAC First Team honoree. "We knew we had ourselves a great one for the future when [Riethman] was a freshman. He helps the defense a ton. He is just an amazing punter."

"Riley's redeeming quality is his pursuit of achievement and perfection," says Ricky Brown, Navy's first-year special teams coordinator. "He is a stud in the classroom. When he hits the ball, it just sounds right and the hang time is there [often]. He has embraced his role as a team-first guy who is super-respected. Our entire punt unit has really trimmed the fat off their games. And Riley is one of the most consistent guys in our entire program, which is pretty full of consistent guys."

"[Riethman] is an overall athlete. He beats some of our position players in [team] runs. As he keeps developing his leg strength, I think he will increase hang time and distance and broaden his punting portfolio."

Riethman literally comes from a family of athletes. His mother, Angela, played volleyball at Indiana-Purdue University at Fort Wayne. His father, Rob, played tennis at Butler. His older brother, Drew, was a kicker at Texas A&M from 2017-20. His older sister, Emmie, was a four-year varsity volleyball player – a Libero specialist – at Keller High School.

Soccer was the first sport Riethman enjoyed and stuck with the longest. He remembers as a younger back taking goal kicks for his team – and how good it felt to strike the ball and send it high and over the midfield line.

Rob Riethman remembers parts of his youngest child's personality emerging in ways that define him today. Taking care of school work came easily to Riley. He loved playing sports as much as he enjoyed applying himself in the scientific world. He would design and build drones, remotely-controlled airplanes, even a primitive rocket engine, sometimes with Drew.

Rob recalls with amusement how teenage Riley delivered an invitation to a young lady and fellow student – via drone -- to join him at the prom at Nolan High. She accepted.

"Riley doesn't sit still very well. He needs to play," Rob Riethman says. "He is stubborn and talented. Don't tell him he can't do something. [At Navy] he plays a football game on Saturday, goes to church on Sunday, comes back to work on a new plane that he'll be flying a few weeks later."

Riley Riethman says his decision to accept an offer to come to Navy (and turn down two scholarship offers from Patriot League schools and preferred walk-on invitations from Texas and Northwestern) was simple.

"I looked at Navy as such a good school with such a cool, military opportunity after that, and you still get to play high-level football. That was tough to turn down," says Riethman, who sees himself one day perhaps as a project manager with a defense contractor in the aviation world. "I'm confident that this degree and my military experience can lead me to whatever career path I want."


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