Former YSU standout Rivers could play in Super Bowl

Former YSU standout could play in Super Bowl tonight

By Brian Dzenis

No matter what happens in tonight’s Super Bowl, Derek Rivers is staying true to himself.

The New England Patriots’ defensive end from Youngstown State has kept his focus on serving others and his faith as he’ll be in his second Super Bowl in his two-year NFL career.

“It has nothing to do with the NFL season. I just live my life through Christ,” Rivers said. “We’re just called to do his will and to live through him in everything that we do. It’s how my wife and I want to live our lives.”

Despite being in the pros for two seasons, Rivers’ has earned a reputation for helping others with no publicity attached. In the summer, ESPN reported that he had paid for a Lyft service for a homeless man the day after the Patriots lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in last year’s Super Bowl.

In Week 13 of this season, another Rivers deed came to light.

This one predates the Lyft incident and even Rivers’ time with the Patriots. He was in Cincinnati preparing for the NFL Draft when at the same time, a family from Manalapan, N.J., was in town. Jim Raffone was taking his 9-year-old son, Jamesy, to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center for a semi-annual evaluation for his Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Raffone visited Rivers and a few other players trying to get some support for his non-profit, JAR of Hope, which raises funds for muscular dystrophy research.

Rivers lost a childhood friend to muscular dystrophy when he was living in Kinston, N.C., so the Raffone family’s story struck a chord with him.

“It was like God was calling to my heart,” Rivers said. “It calling me to be a part of [JAR of Hope].”

Rivers struck up a relationship with the Raffones, keeping in contact with them as he navigated the first season of his NFL career, which he spent on injured reserve. Occasionally, the family traveled to visit him before Patriots games.

“We’re just trying to let Christ lead us and figure out where to go next,” Rivers said.

Week 13 was the NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats” period, where the league’s dress code regarding personal messages on player’s shoes is relaxed in the name of charity. Rivers chose put to in bright green letters “JAR” on his black and red cleats. Even though Rivers didn’t step on the field for the Patriots’ 24-10 win against the Minnesota Vikings, the cleats sold for $1,010 through an NFL auction. All of the proceeds went to JAR of Hope.

Service isn’t the only thing on Rivers’ mind tonight as an opposing player adds a little nostalgia to the game.

In 2011, Rivers went head to head with Los Angeles star running back Todd Gurley while they played for Kinston and Tarboro high schools, respectively. Kinston won 54-48 in triple-overtime and the game ended with Gurley being stuffed at the goal line.

“He still had like, three or four touchdowns and like 300 yards on the ground,” Rivers said. “He went nuts and he played everything on the field. He was a D-end, linebacker — he did it all. He was a fun guy to play against and an even better dude.”

Rivers, who has played sparingly this season, said he’ll find out if he’s suiting up for the game today. If he gets to play, he’s got one piece of advice for stopping Gurley,

“Just get him on the ground,” Rivers said.

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