Three years ago, Riley Binnquist was the fourth-string running back on the Corona del Mar High freshman football team.
He played on the junior varsity team as a sophomore and junior, overcoming a broken right ankle in the latter season to suit up in the last four games.
On a CdM team with plenty of hype entering the 2019 season, Binnquist was not one of the first names mentioned when talking about the Sea Kings. He wasn’t even sure which team he’d play for as a senior.
“To be completely honest, I wasn’t even thinking about getting any varsity reps,” Binnquist said. “I was honestly debating about asking the coaches to play the first five games on JV.”
Binnquist’s good friend Jason Vicencio had gotten most of the carries for the Sea Kings last year as a sophomore. Binnquist thought the same would be true this year.
But then Vicencio hurt his head and neck in CdM’s scrimmage at Tesoro on Aug. 16. The door was opened for the 5-foot-9 Binnquist to show what he could do at the varsity level.
“I will always remember this,” Binnquist said. “I was walking with my mom to the car after that Tesoro scrimmage and [offensive coordinator Kevin] Hettig walked up to my mom [Kymm] and told her that I had some big shoes to fill this next week, because I was starting against Downey [in the season opener]. My mom said, ‘He’ll be ready, don’t worry about it.’”
Much more than a placeholder, Binnquist earned his spot at starting running back. And last week he picked a great time to have the best game of his high school career.
Binnquist had 14 carries for 146 yards and a touchdown as the top-seeded Sea Kings beat No. 2 Simi Valley Grace Brethren 56-28 in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 title game on Nov. 29 at Newport Harbor High. The carries and yardage were both career highs.
Binnquist helped keep the season alive for CdM (14-0), which hosts Oceanside (11-3) in the CIF State Southern California Regional Division 1-A Bowl Game on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Davidson Field. A victory puts the Sea Kings in the state final on Dec. 14 at Cerritos College.
Binnquist plays his home games on the campus his father, Bruce, attended in high school. Bruce played on the Newport Harbor boys’ water polo team and was the surf team captain. Riley said that his dad has taught him and his younger brother, Johnny, a junior on the CdM football team who has played primarily special teams, the value of hard work.
“If you would have told me four months ago that Riley Binnquist would rush for [146 yards] against Grace Brethren in the CIF title game, I’d have told you that you were crazy. He’s earned that, and he’s done that.”
The underdog story is paying off for Riley Binnquist. He actually played quarterback in middle school, but with CdM having Ethan Garbers and Simon Hall at that position, Hettig encouraged him to switch positions entering high school.
Now Binnquist is the starting running back on a team that’s ranked No. 3 in California by MaxPreps.com and CalPreps.com. Hettig said that Binnquist has worked on his lower body strength, making him tough to bring down.
“He’s been maybe the biggest surprise in the program,” Hettig said. “He just had a little window and he blew up, and we couldn’t take him off the field. His balance is unbelievable and his toughness is crazy. He’s made the most of what he’s got, for sure. If you would have told me four months ago that Riley Binnquist would rush for [146 yards] against Grace Brethren in the CIF title game, I’d have told you that you were crazy. He’s earned that, and he’s done that.”
Binnquist is quick to credit the Sea Kings’ offensive line of junior left tackle Thomas Bouda, senior left guard Max Farzine, senior center Tanner Tomlinson, junior right guard Hunter Schimmelpfennig and senior right tackle Vinny Provenza.
“It was probably the best week of practice they’ve ever had,” said Binnquist of the line’s preparation for the CIF title game, a rematch of the 2018 Division 4 final that Grace Brethren won 26-14. “They knew that they needed to prove something, that we could run the ball … They blocked their [behinds off]. Yes, they’re a little undersized, but that doesn’t mean anything. They’ve got the heart. Every one of their hearts makes them 300 pounds, so they can drive anybody off the ball when they want to. They’re definitely the hardest-working group on the football team for sure.”
Binnquist knows about being undersized, but he hasn’t let that get in his way. He also gave credit to Vicencio, who is now healthy but behind him on the depth chart, for the way he has handled the situation.
“It definitely was difficult for him,” Binnquist said. “He wouldn’t show it. He’s obviously a very supportive friend and he wants to show that he’s happy for me. I mean, we’ve always just got to stay positive. We’re very close, us three running backs [also including senior Ryan Rector]. We’re very happy when everybody gets to go in, and we just cheer each other on and be happy for one another.
“We kind of get overlooked [in the offense that features Garbers at quarterback, John Humphreys at receiver and Mark Redman at tight end], but that’s OK. We just put our heads down and we all work to get better in the pass blocking aspect of it, check downs and all of that.”
Attention to detail has helped Binnquist succeed. He’s having a better senior year than he ever could have imagined.
“He’s a kid who showed up freshman year the first day of practice, and you’re like, ‘OK, this is a nice kid,’” CdM coach Dan O’Shea said. “But you never envisioned him being your senior varsity all-league type of running back. It’s a phenomenal story. He’s the epitome of character and work ethic.”
With Binnquist, the Sea Kings are a win away from playing for their first state crown since 2013.
Born: May 18, 2001
Hometown: Newport Beach
Height: 5 feet 9
Weight: 165 pounds
Coach: Dan O’Shea
Favorite food: Steak
Favorite movie: “Ford v Ferrari”
Favorite athletic moment: Helping CdM win this year’s CIF Southern Section Division 3 title.
Week in review: Binnquist had 14 carries for a career-high 146 yards and a touchdown, as well as two catches for 36 yards, as the top-seeded Sea Kings beat No. 2 Grace Brethren 56-28 in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 title game on Nov. 29 at Newport Harbor High.
Support our sports coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.