The first season Joe Rivers spent as a Crusader was so good that he figured he’d stay one for the next five-plus years as well.
A rising senior at Bishop Fenwick, Rivers recently gave his verbal commitment to play football on scholarship at Holy Cross.
The Division 1 Football Championship Subdivision program in Worcester had everything the talented linebacker, safety and ballcarrier from Wakefield was looking for — and having the same mascot as Fenwick was a coincidental bonus.
“If you’d told me six months ago that I’d be committed before the season, I wouldn’t have believed it,” said Rivers, who had offers from Bryant, the University of New Hampshire, Georgetown and Brown in addition to Holy Cross. “I’m very happy; it’s a big accomplishment.
“Holy Cross was where I spent the most time for camps and visits,” he added, “and I kept coming back to how comfortable it was and how genuine all the coaches and players felt.”
Former Salve Regina and Assumption coach Bob Chesney is going into his second year at Holy Cross, aiming to make the Crusaders a threat in the always-tough Patriot League. The team’s last playoff appearance was in 2009, though they’ve had three winning seasons and went a respectable 5-6 last year.
For Rivers, who is in the National Honor Society and carries a 4.21 grade point average, the Patriot League was part of Holy Cross’ appeal. Ivy League schools choose not to participate in the football playoffs, while those in the Patriot League can offer the mix of competing for a national title and world renowned academics.
“Being playoff-eligible was a big game changer for me,” said Rivers. “I looked at their schedule and my freshman year the first game is at Boston College. We’re going to play some high caliber schools; I think Navy is on the schedule, and Yale, and being part of building the program up to that is a big draw.”
Holy Cross is a getting a tremendously versatile defensive player. Rivers transferred to Fenwick last year after Malden Catholic’s football team (which his dad, Bob, quarterbacked in his playing days) left the Catholic Conference. He made an immediate impact on a Black-and-Gold defense that won the Catholic Central League title and went 9-2 overall.
Head coach Dave Woods and defensive guru Dave Dugan deployed Rivers, who goes 6-foot and 215 pounds, all over the field. He thrived in their environment with 92 tackles and seven sacks.
“They used me rushing off the edge, playing man-to-man coverage in the slot, playing over the top at safety, supporting the run in the box — I got to do a little bit of everything and that felt great,” said Rivers, who was a CCL all-star last fall. “I learned a ton in my first year at Fenwick. It’s a very adaptive, very mobile system and I loved it.”
In college, Rivers could use that laundry list of skills to play a defensive rover or overhang role. As a hybrid linebacker and safety, he’s fast enough to cover pass catchers (clocking a 4.50 second 40-yard dash) and powerful enough to tackle running backs.
“Defense is the strength of my game and I enjoy moving around,” he said. “Outside linebacker is probably my favorite position because you can come off the edge and you’re still able to get into coverage.”
Being relatively close to home and the pristine new facilities at Holy Cross were also big draws for Rivers, who’s thinking about studying economics or something with banking or the stock exchange.
“Their Hart Center, whenever you go in there if takes your breath away,” said Rivers. “The other thing is there’s a lot that reminds you of the history of Holy Cross. My dad graduated from BC, he was a freshman when Doug Flutie was a senior, and he’s been telling me about how Holy Cross was one of their big games, how competitive it was.”
Before turning in his Black-and-Gold Crusader duds for some purple ones at Holy Cross, Rivers and the rest of his Fenwick teammates want to prove the 2018 season was no fluke. Rivers chipped in on offense last year with six touchdowns and could see more action out of the backfield in addition to his defensive duties. The North Shore’s leading scorer, tailback David Cifuentes (19 TDs, 146 points) also returns for Fenwick.
“We open the year with Stoneham and they knocked us out of the playoffs, so personally I’m most excited about that first game,” Rivers said. “We’re all really excited to get back to work next month and want to be really competitive in our division.”