After attending high school in North Carolina, Derek Rivers went on to attend Fork Union Military Academy in rural Virginia. When there, Derek added size to his 6’4’’ frame and earned an offer to play at Youngstown State. This season under Head Coach Bo Pelini, Derek accounted for the second most total sacks (14.0) in FCS, and led Youngstown State on a playoff run which brought them back to the FCS National Championship game. Our interview with him is below:
Q: Where are you currently training for the NFL Draft and which agent is representing you?
A: I’m represented by Kevin McGuire with Element Sports and I’m training at Ignition in Cincinnati.
Q: Heading into the NFL combine and pro-day, what’s your ideal height, weight and 40-time?
A: My height will probably be 6’4’’ and I’ll probably weigh in at 255 and my 40-time will probably be in the 4.7’s.
Q: When did you go to Fork Union Military Academy and what was that like?
A: FUMA was cool I liked it a lot. I went there in 2012 because I wanted to go to Virginia Tech like my dad and they ended up coming and recruiting me but I was small, I was 182 lbs. my junior year [of high school]. I was tall and skinny and I could run but nobody really pulled the trigger so I went to FUMA for more exposure and to get my SAT score up. It was different though; you go from having freedom to being in that military lifestyle and it’s definitely different. But, Fork Union was probably the best decision I ever made it was a blessing and God has a plan for everybody so it was awesome.
Q: Reflecting on your abilities, what would you say your biggest strength on the field is?
A: My pass rush ability as far as on the field I would say is my biggest strength.
Q: Do you feel like you can play more of the OLB role in a 3-4 defensive front?
A: Most definitely; especially after this week at the Senior Bowl. I pretty much spent the whole week doing that and after this week and having that experience, I feel comfortable playing that 3-4 position.
Q: And on the other side of that, what is something you think you could improve on heading into the next level?
A: I would definitely say footwork and my hands so I’m able to have more pass rush moves.
Q: Looking at the current NFL guys, is there one player that you model your game after or a player that you would compare yourself to at the DE position?
A: Whenever I watch NFL film, I like to watch all the best pass rushers so I love to watch power guys like Khalil Mack, Von Miller, and Justin Houston. I like watching guys that stand up more.
Q: During your time at Youngstown State, who would you say the best offensive lineman that you faced was?
A: I would say Billy Turner from ND State. I’m not sure where he’s at now; I know he was with the Dolphins for a couple of years.
Q: Congratulations on getting to the National Championship game this year. Y’all had a great run in the playoffs, what was that experience like?
A: It was a blessing. [Youngstown] hadn’t been to the playoffs in 10 years so to be able to go to the playoffs and not only get to the playoffs but also get to the National Championship was a blessing. It was something that we enjoyed and something that we were able to bring back to the city just because Youngstown has a history of National Championships. It was awesome to go back and bring that back to the city because it’s a city that’s kind of struggling right now. That game kind of reenergized the whole city and it was an awesome experience.
Q: How was Coach Pelini through that playoff run?
A: He’s an intense guy. You would never know it, but he acts like he’s been there before and he coached every week just like it was another game.
Q: When you look at the DE class this year, there’s obviously a lot of talent at that position, where would you rank yourself?
A: I would definitely rank myself Top-10.
Q: Is there an ideal round you see yourself getting drafted and would you be disappointed if you weren’t selected then?
A: It’s in God’s hands. I will be excited with whatever round I get drafted. Getting drafted is getting drafted and like I said I give Him all the glory and honor for everything. It is by His grace that we have what we have so whatever His will is for me to go; whether that is 2nd, 3rd or 4th round it’s whatever. Getting drafted is cool but once you get into camp it’s all football.
Q: Did you have a favorite NFL team growing up or maybe you have one now?
A: I actually just had a favorite player. I loved Michael Vick.
Q: What was the process like for deciding to attend the Senior bowl?
A: The main reason for deciding to attend the Senior Bowl was to get that FCS mark off my back. When you get a guy coming from the FCS level, a lot of scouts want to see if you can play with FBS level. That was really the main reason but I mean it’s the Senior Bowl. It’s something you dream about and you’re playing against guys you would see on TV. You’re playing up against some 1st round guys like O.J. Howard and then of course some 2nd and 3rd round guys as well so you’re really getting to go up against some good competition.
Q: Take me through that experience a little more and do you feel like you helped yourself a lot during that week?
A: When you first get there, you walk into the lobby and you see all 32 teams and they’re pulling players aside to get interviews and once the practices start it’s all go. It gives you a sense of what to look forward to as far as what NFL practices are like. The practices are really fast-paced and they’re only an hour and fifteen minutes but they feel like 2 hours. During the week, I feel like my first day was O.K., but my second, and third day of practice and the game were good. I really feel like I showed people I can play with that level of competition and showed that I deserved to be there.
Q: Which teams did you talk to the most during the week?
A: Some of the longer interviews happened with the Titans, the Jets, Ravens and Jaguars.
Q: And out of those four teams, would you prefer to play for one over the others?
A: Like I said, it doesn’t really matter. Wherever I can play some football. A lot of teams mentioned outside linebacker so I’m preparing for that.
Q: What do you find yourself doing on the weekends when you’re not playing football?
A: I like to hang with some of the guys I’m here training with. Some of the guys and I have gotten real close. Feel like we went to school together because of how close we’ve gotten. So really just hanging out with them.
Q: What’s one thing the average person might not know about Derek Rivers outside of football?
A: I’m great on the grill. I’m a big rib guy.
Q: What are you going to do with that first NFL paycheck?
A: First off, I would give my tithe and give back to the churches. And then, probably just pay off my mom’s bills.
Interview Conducted by Evan Morrison @EJMorrison26