Random acts of kindness are the norm for former YSU defensive end Derek Rivers
By Brian Dzenis
It could be a the gift of a free meal one day. It could be a conversation with someone who is struggling or providing someone a Lyft another time.
On any given day, former Youngstown State defensive end Derek Rivers performs some random act of kindness. The majority of them go unnoticed by the public at large. His explanation for why he does these things is simple.
“It’s all God,” Rivers said.
Heading into his second season in the NFL with the New England Patriots, Rivers’ penchant for generosity emerged under the spotlight of the league. A story came out during the team’s training camp last August that the then-rookie had bought a meal for a homeless man. Last week, ESPN reported that Rivers paid a Lyft driver — and tipped generously — to drive another homeless man from Foxborough, Mass. to Fall River, which is an hour away.
“You show the mercy that God shows every day. It’s what drives you every day,” Rivers said. “You might see somebody walking on the street that looks like they’re struggling or you see somebody begging for money and we’ve all done it before — we’ve driven past them. Something in my heart tells me, ‘Go back, go back.’ It’s all God.”
Rivers’ deed-doing goes back years. He picked it up from his mother and father. He did similar things while at YSU in addition to the community service activities done by the team or the school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes. If anyone knew about it, it was probably because they chipped in to help out. Occasionally, a roommate or his wife, Lauren — who was his girlfriend at the time — worked alongside him, Rivers said. Besides that, he kept what he did to himself. Sometimes, word would reach Penguins coach Bo Pelini.
“That’s the kind of guy he is. That’s the heart he has. I hate to say this but sometimes guys do stuff like that because it’s expected of them,” Pelini said. “Derek is the kind of guy who would do something without anyone knowing, but sometimes you would hear, ‘Hey, Derek did this,’ and I would think it’s pretty cool. It wasn’t publicized. He did it because that’s who he is.”
For the escapade with Lyft. Rivers said he couldn’t recall when exactly it happened, but it was around the time the Patriots were playing the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl in February. He was leaving the team’s practice facility in Foxborough for the day when he spotted the man holding a cardboard sign.
“Normally, you don’t see a lot of homeless folks by the side of the road in Foxborough. It’s a college town. You don’t even see that in the city of Boston,” Rivers said. “Something was making me come back. I turned around and pulled up alongside him.”
The man was asking for a ride to Fall River. He had come out of rehab and was homeless while dealing with alcoholism. Rivers took the man to his apartment where he could wait while Rivers arranged a ride via the app, Lyft.
“We were chilling outside talking about scripture and he knew so many,” Rivers said. “That’s what helped him get through rehab and being addicted to alcohol.”
When the driver, identified by ESPN as Mary Vilorio, arrived at the apartment building, Rivers explained that he was paying for the man’s ride and that he wasn’t going. He made sure Vilorio was OK with the arrangement before the man entered her car. He learned she too was having her own issues. Vilorio was out of work and living in a friend’s basement. She later called Rivers from the road to report that she and her passenger were getting along and talking scripture on the trip.
“She said, ‘I’m very grateful for what you’ve done,’ and I just said, ‘It’s all God. That’s how God works,’ ” Rivers said. “It was her biggest ride of the day and it was going to give her a boost.”
After Lyft got its fee, Vilorio took home $84.51, including a $35 tip, per ESPN. Rivers never revealed that he played for the Patriots until the man asked him what he did for a living. A third-round pick in last year’s draft, Rivers sat out the season with a torn ACL, but he said he’s “feeling good” and he’s ready for preseason work.
Rivers plans to continue helping out where he can whether anyone knows it or not.
“I don’t think you need to have a lot of money to just help somebody out. Sometimes I think you can have a conversation with somebody like saying, ‘Hello, how are you doing?’ You can buy somebody a $10 meal,” Rivers said. “You do what God calls you to do and I help out my brothers and sisters.
“It’s not a thing with the NFL or my job, it’s what God would want me to do.”