SOUTHINGTON - Former Southington tight end Richie Rivera had already committed to play college football at Southern Connecticut State University when his teammate Vance Upham was making his decision.
Rivera wanted Upham to join him next year and the former running back couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
“Once Richie told me that he was set on Southern I told him ‘I’m going to do it with you,’” Upham said. “He had a lot to do with my decision, I’m not going to lie.
“He put the thought in my mind that it would be the last potential chance to play ball together and I’m not going to be playing ball with any of my other old friends so I get four more years to play with him.”
On Thursday afternoon both Rivera and Upham signed their Letters of Intent to continue their football careers in a ceremony held at Southington High School.
Upham leaves Southington as one of the most decorated players in the history of the program, having broken the single-season rushing record and the career rushing record. Both of those records previously stood for nearly 50 years.
Rivera didn’t quite have the gaudy numbers that Upham did, but he is an imposing figure that had an excellent comeback season as a senior.
The tight end missed his entire junior season with a broken leg but came back as a senior and was a force. Rivera was named Southington’s Offensive Player of the Year this past season for the work he put in not only catching the ball but also blocking.
“I think they are going to be dynamic players in college,” Southington head coach Mike Drury said. “Speaking to the Southern head coach in depth, I know they are excited to be getting these two young men because they know that these guys that could have potentially played at the D-I level, they are that caliber of player.
“Then when you add in the mentality and the attitude that I know these guys bring to their training, they will be alright. They are going to have to go there and battle for every inch for four years, but I think they are going to do a great job.”
Drury believes that Rivera’s injury as a junior played some role in his recruiting, because he didn’t have the film other players had, despite being well known by colleges.
In the end, though, he ended up in a place he is happy with.
“Southern is just overall a good fit for me,” Rivera said. “I like the environment, I love the school and the school is beautiful. The coaches there are really nice and I felt comfortable with them. Not specifically football, but with my education and everything that fit perfectly too.
“Secondly the type of football they are playing, they are a tough team, that’s something I want to be a part of.”
Neither Upham nor Rivera are going in with crazy expectations regarding playing time or stats to start. They are both looking to enjoy the experience and compete at a higher level than they ever have before.
“I just want to be in the top physical shape I can be,” Rivera said. “Of course I’m playing at a higher level, so I’m going to have to work at a higher level, and that’s what I’m really looking forward to.”
“I just want to push myself physically and mentally with school, football, training and all of that,” Upham said. “I’m just trying to make myself the best player that I can be.”
Both players were being heavily recruited by the top D-II schools in the area, but there were too many pros to choosing Southern for them to turn down.
“I was looking at all of the places that were looking at me and I had to take into consideration where it is, financially how much they would do for me and also having Richie and other Southington kids there was a big factor,” Upham said.
Both players seem happy with their college choice and will now get another four years together, which Drury thinks will be extremely beneficial.
“Absolutely,” Drury said. “I tell all of my athletes that playing a college sport is difficult, especially football. It’s a big adjustment and a big commitment that requires a lot of work to be put in. To be able to do that with someone you have been doing it with for the past four years will definitely be helpful.”
In the end Rivera seemed to be the most happy about being able to sway Upham to join him.
“At first Vance wasn’t really thinking about Southern like that,” Rivera said. “I like to think that I convinced him. There was nothing specific that I said or did, I just told him I wanted him to come play with me and now I’m really looking forward to it.”
Michael Woolfson can be reached at 860-801-5203 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter: @bigwoolf5