By: Grant Traylor (The Herald-Dispatch) for the West Virginia Sports Writers Association
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — On Thursday, Spring Valley offensive lineman Riley Locklear will take the field at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas, for the Blue-Grey All-American Game, which matches him against the nation’s best players.
When Locklear enters the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys for Thursday’s game, the University of Tennessee commit will be able to let everyone there know that he is the best lineman in West Virginia.
In a year that featured several high-level Division I prospects, Locklear earned the coveted 2016 Stydahar Award, given to the state’s top interior lineman by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.
“There’s a lot of kids around the state and everywhere else that would kill for the kind of opportunities that I’ve been given,” Locklear said. “I don’t take it lightly. I try to do the best I can to represent other West Virginia kids, the sport and the state.”
The ironic thing about Locklear’s rise to the state’s top lineman is that 16 months ago, he was still a skill player, lining up at running back and tight end for Spring Valley.
It wasn’t until three weeks prior to the start of his junior season that Locklear became a full-time offensive lineman.
“Looking back at it, it’s kind of crazy,” Locklear said. “There have been times where it’s been up and down, but truly it’s been a blessing in disguise for me to become an offensive lineman. My freshman and sophomore year, I was a defensive end, slot receiver, tight end and running back. I didn’t ever think I’d be an offensive lineman.”
Locklear credited his brother Alex, an offensive lineman at Marshall University, for helping him get acclimated to the new position quickly.
“My biggest transition was learning the game — how to practice and how to prepare,” Locklear said of his brother. “The thing that helped me with footwork technique was my background as a skill guy and my brother. With Alex being at Marshall and being a Division I lineman, too, his help was huge. During my games, he’d be on the sidelines and would say, ‘Hey, I saw you do this. You need to do this differently.’ It was definitely an advantage to have him there for me.”
The offseason prior to his senior year was crucial in his development, and it was at the Adidas Georgia Showcase that his talent and skill as an offensive line prospect were realized on the national level.
In a combine that featured many top-tier national recruits, Locklear won Overall Most Valuable Player for the combine, which went with his Offensive Line MVP award.
Locklear used that momentum of the offseason to propel into the 2016 season for Spring Valley, and the Timberwolves didn’t look back.
Behind Locklear’s lead, Spring Valley rushed for just under 5,000 yards on the season while finishing 12-2 and advancing to the Class AAA state championship where they fell to Martinsburg.
Locklear said that one of the most fun aspects of his senior year was getting to go up against some of the state’s top talent on a week-to-week basis.
The 6-foot-6, 295-pound offensive tackle pointed to facing Division I-caliber players such as Huntington High offensive lineman Billy Ross, Capital linebacker Dorian Etheridge and South Charleston’s Derrek Pitts as those who helped push him on the field.
He added that the relationship he built with Point Pleasant offensive lineman Seth Stewart also was a big boost and those two will likely work out together before they both head to their Southeastern Conference destinations.
Locklear added that West Virginia’s Class of 2017 leaves a legacy of improving the game as a whole for the state.
“Being able to play other Division I talent will help get me ready for college, but the big thing is that it’s made everyone in the state better,” Locklear said. “All of us are better by being able to play really good talent throughout the state.”
The three top vote-getters in the Stydahar Award voting are all seniors headed to Power 5 Conference schools.
Ross, who is headed to North Carolina, finished second in the voting while Stewart finished third and is headed to LSU.
St. Marys’ senior Jacob Northup, who led the Blue Devils to the Class A Championship, finished fourth in the voting.
The Stydahar Award (formerly the Hunt Award) is named for Joe Stydahar, who was nicknamed “Jumbo Joe” and starred as an offensive lineman at Shinnston High School and then West Virginia University before being chosen as the No. 6 overall pick in the 1936 NFL Draft.
Stydahar played with the Chicago Bears from 1936-43 and 1945-46, earning six All-Pro selections and winning an NFL Championship on four separate occasions. He was named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team.
Following his playing career, Stydahar was head coach of the Los Angeles Rams (1950-51) and the Chicago Cardinals (1953-54).
Locklear will receive the 2016 Stydahar Award at the 71st annual Victory Awards Dinner, which will be hosted by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association at 4 p.m. on May 21 at Village Square Conference Center in Clarksburg, W.Va.