Rivera played three seasons at Wofford after redshirting his first year on campus, rising to become a starter at free safety for the Terriers as a junior in 2017. At 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, Rivera is small for his position, but had a mind that enabled him to pick up the defense quickly. It might be expected for someone who graduated as a triple major with degrees in computer science, finance and mathematics. As Rivera has told the story, he decided to pursue it after his roommates dared him and, after plotting out classes on a spreadsheet, he realized he could actually do it.
Last year, at the end of Wofford’s season, his closest friends on the team were graduating and heading their own ways. On the verge of graduation but not yet ready for the work world, a transfer to Tech and playing for the Jackets became an option. Rivera’s position coach at Wofford, Shiel Wood, had taken a job as safeties coach at Tech, and, being versed in the defense (Wood’s scheme was similar to Woody’s), he could be an extra resource to the team. Just as important, Tech offered a master’s program that matched his interests and knowledge base – quantitative and computational finance.
Even before preseason practice began, Rivera was watching video with younger safeties explaining the defense. In practice, he tutored and encouraged. In games, he helped organize a defense learning the scheme on the fly. For a team that came out of spring practice unsure how it would fill the void left by A.J. Gray after he was medically disqualified with a heart condition, Rivera was a valuable replacement, proving wrong his own doubts that he might not be able to compete with players bigger and more talented than him.
Rivera took a particular interest in his backup, freshman safety Juanyeh Thomas. The two spent two hours daily watching game video, Rivera explaining the intricacies of the position and scheme – where to line up, how alignment changed based on formation, recognizing tendencies and other details.
“I’m a dude to learn and he was a dude to teach me everything this year, literally,” Thomas said. “All the coverages.”
In Thomas, Rivera found a pupil with a passion for the game and a bubbly personality. The two were a match, each happy to cede playing time to the other. Rivera prodded Thomas to be vocal on the field, actively communicating with the other defensive backs. Last week, Rivera reported with pride that Thomas was now yelling out his responsibility on a coverage to the other defensive backs without any prompting.
“It just makes you really happy at this point, honestly,” Rivera said.
With football over after the bowl game, Rivera can dig into his master’s program. He will be an intern this summer for Bank of America as a global quantitative analyst. Then one more semester and he’ll have his degree. According to the school, 2016 graduates from the program had an average total compensation of $102,000.
And, as intended, Rivera will also leave something of himself at Tech. Despite being on the Jackets roster less than a calendar year, he has handed down to Thomas, as well as other returning safeties (Kaleb Oliver, Tariq Carpenter, Christian Campbell, Jarett Cole and Avery Showell) a better understanding of how to watch game video, how to think through down-and-distance and how to scout opponents and the like.
For Rivera, as well as for Tech, the decision to venture out on his own has proven immensely rewarding.
“I’m very thankful for it,” he said. “I don’t think I could actually be happier.”