Youngstown State has produced 23 NFL draft picks.
Last Friday, Derek Rivers became the first in nearly two decades.
The New England Patriots selected Rivers in the third round at No. 83 overall, which in turn, made the 6-foot-5, 248-pound end-slash linebacker the second-highest choice in school history behind only Ron Jaworski in 1973 and Pete Lanzi in 1948. It made him the first choice at all since Harry Deligianis in 1998.
It’s only fitting that Rivers broke the draught. It’s only fitting that he landed in Foxborough.
“Man, to God be the glory. It's awesome,” Rivers told reporters during his Gillette Stadium introduction Thursday. “I was actually born in Augusta [Maine], so being back in this area, my mom and that side of the family is ecstatic. She went to school at Northeastern, so they're huge Patriots fans. I know all my family and my friends back home, they're excited. Just to be in this stadium, it's an overwhelming feeling.”
Rivers finished his career at Youngstown State with an overwhelming program-record 41 sacks to go with 47 quarterback hurries, 173 tackles, 56.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.
He finished it with 37 starts and 49 games played, as a two-time All-American, as a three-time first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection, and as an FCS national championship runner-up.
But Rivers, who arrived at Youngstown State in January 2013 after a year at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, knows he’s no longer a big fish in a small pond. He now finds himself as a rookie on a reigning Super Bowl champions’ roster, and on an edge that includes the likes of Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich and Kony Ealy.
“I definitely have a sense of eagerness over me,” the 22-year-old said. “Coming to this organization, I mean, it makes you want to work harder. That's what I feel. I'm just ready to get things going. I mean the past couple weeks, we've been training for combine, this, and now it's back to football.”
The level competition was not what his fellow draft mates – Troy tackle Antonio Garcia, Arkansas defensive end Deatrich Wise and UCLA tackle Conor McDermott – faced. But the way Rivers handled it at Youngstown, as well as at the NFL Scouting Combine and the Senior Bowl, made a compelling case for him being the first Patriots draft pick of 2017.
The tutelage he received during his junior and senior years under Bo Pelini, who served as the Patriots’ linebackers coach from 1997 through 1999 before Bill Belichick returned as head coach in 2000, also helped.
“Played competitively in the all-star games and in a good program there with Coach Pelini, who we know very well,” Belichick said in last Friday’s press conference. “Bo does a great job with his players and his team. Derek's been in a good system, has been well-coached.”
Rivers agrees. And Youngstown State teammate Avery Moss, taken by the New York Giants in the fifth round, likely would as well.
“He’s an NFL-caliber coach,” Rivers said of Pelini. “I mean, he started off in the league, so everything we did at Youngstown prepared me for this moment here. I learned so much from Coach Bo and just culture and doing all the little things right. I mean, I credit Bo for a lot of my successes.”
Those successes are now in the past tense. Rivers’ 4.61-second 40-yard dash, 6.94 three-cone, 35-inch vertical and 30 bench reps are right there with the other collegiate marks as well.
It’s now a matter of having them translate. That process will get underway as he takes the field for rookie minicamp this weekend.
Rivers hopes to hit the ground running.
“Man, I'm here. The road to get here is over with,” he said. “Now, it's to focus on winning another Super Bowl.”