For Derek Rivers, his faith is his fuel, pure and simple.
Listen to the Youngstown State standout for five minutes, and he will without hesitation quote a Bible verse that fits the narrative. His faith in God is what fuels his extra effort in the weight room, it fuels his off-the-field work in the community, it fuels his love for his teammates. This past weekend he embarked on a short — yet in so many other ways, long — drive to Indianapolis from his training center in Cincinnati. His faith was his fuel heading into the NFL Draft Combine, and he had a very strong showing that has created a buzz. He was one of only 20 FCS products invited out of the 300-plus asked to come.
He entered the meat market realm of the NFL — the Draft Combine — but welcomed it with a smile, saying he was blessed. His 4.61-second time in the 40-yard dash certainly turned heads, as did his performances in the three-cone drill and the bench press.
"It is cool, it is surreal and to God be the glory," Rivers told HERO Sports. "The Lord does so much for us, it's awesome … I'm trying not to peak too early, but I'll let the Lord guide me. I've prayed about this since I was five years old. Now it's here."
So what will the NFL get with Rivers? Well, some sites — like NFLDraftScout — have Rivers as a top 100 pick, firmly planted in the first three rounds. They'll get a 6-foot-4, 250 pound product who has played in the FCS' top conference in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and against perennial power North Dakota State, while also doing battle with FBS schools like West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Michigan State. He's seen some tough competition during his college career.
The NFL will also get a guy who already has his community outreach plan mapped out. He plans to help with the homeless and with inner city kids, saying it's a part of his plan to 'give back'. He said he fully embraced his faith as a sophomore, and it has helped him get to this point.
"I didn't start getting stronger in my faith until I was in my sophomore year," Rivers said. "I just still wasn't there. Then over the summer it hit me that you don't play this game for your own selfish interests, you play for the Lord, your family and your teammates … That's also when I began to really work. I ask myself after every workout if the Lord would appreciate that effort. Did I give my best effort to the Lord?"
When fellow defensive end teammate and NFL Draft Combine participant Avery Moss came aboard after transferring from Nebraska because of off-the-field problems, Moss told HERO Sports that Rivers' faith was contagious and helped him get on a straighter path too. It has worked because Moss is now in line to also get drafted — and Rivers said his friend and teammate is way past those issues from Nebraska.
"Everybody has their own journey, and that was a part of Avery's journey," Rivers said. "It has nothing to do with the kind of man he is today. He's the type of guy now that you can throw into any setting and he's going to walk away with five new friends. I love being around him. He brings the best out of you and he's a realist and he's honest. He's not going to hold anything back."
When it comes to the nitty gritty of the Combine and his Pro Day at Youngstown, and ultimately the draft, Rivers looks like he'll slip into the role of outside linebacker — instead of his college position of defensive end. Along with what he did this past weekend, he showed out at the Senior Bowl in January.
"(The Senior Bowl) was a blessing, and I think we got that FCS question about the level of competition out of the way pretty quickly," Rivers said. "I was going up against different guys from FBS schools and I felt like I was playing against guys I'd played against in the Valley. I think the scouts saw that I could cover at outside linebacker as well."
Wherever he ends up, position wise or city wise, he'll have a profound effect.