Brentwood’s Devon Rivers Is The Youngest Of A Family With Running In Its Blood — And The Patriots Football Standout Is Keeping Pace Just Fine •
Updated With New Quotes And Stats: Oct. 7, 2021
Good natured competition is the name of the game in the Rivers household.
If the last few years are any indication, that atmosphere has proven the perfect incubator when it comes to turning out elite-level athletes.
Fans of East Contra Costa high school athletics certainly know the name by now, so it comes as no surprise that as the Heritage-Brentwood football team works to develop a burgeoning group of young talent, Devon Rivers is playing a starring role.
Now in his junior season, the Patriots’ lead running back has already amassed 656 yards and six touchdowns rushing in just five games. The strong start comes on the heels of a sophomore season in which he piled up 911 yards and 12 touchdowns in just six games.
That success isn’t totally unexpected when you consider the role models Devon has to draw from. Former Detroit Lions running back Ron Rivers spent seven seasons in the NFL, is a member of the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame, and he now plays the role of both coach and dad as an assistant on the Heritage coaching staff.
Older brother Ronnie starred at Freedom-Oakley before moving on to Fresno State, Ron’s alma mater, where he recently passed his own dad to move into fifth on the school’s all-time all-purpose yardage list.
And, the Rivers’ success hasn’t been limited to the gridiron, because in a family full of running backs, sister Malia might also have something to say when it comes to who you want anchoring the family 400-meter relay team. A softball star at Fresno State who earned all-Mountain West honors three times, Malia once swiped 41 bases in a season during her own standout career at Heritage.
“She says all the time that she was the best athlete in the house,” Ron Rivers said through a grin. “She was super fast. They all still try to race each other. It’s a good atmosphere.”
So who should you take if you’re handicapping a sprint showdown between siblings?
“As for who would win the family race, there’s absolutely no doubt that it would be me,” Ronnie Rivers said. “And everyone in the family knows that.”
Family races aside, what has become clear early in his high school football career is that Devon has designs on carving out his own identity.
While that has already translated to gaudy numbers, it has also led to growth in other areas of the game. The 2021 Patriots are working to replace eight offensive linemen from their 2020 team, and with sophomore Jacob Wasso taking the helm at quarterback, building from the ground up has been a particular focus for Rivers and his teammates.
“He’s probably one of the hardest working players we’ve ever had in the history of this school,” Heritage football coach Dave Fogelstrom said. “He gets it done in the weight room, he gets it done in practice and he motivates everyone around him to be better.
“If you’re an o-lineman, you want to block for a kid like that. He’s always positive with his o-linemen and he tries to encourage his quarterback, who right now is young. Really we lean on (Devon) a lot as a leader.”
Ron Rivers can see the differences in the way his sons approach the game. Devon is more the vocal type, so the ability to stay positive when things might not be going perfectly offers a chance for growth.
Luckily, no one can confuse Ron Rivers for just another former athlete looking to wax poetic on how the game should be played. While his playing career was impressive enough, he has carved out an equally accomplished second act as a high school coach, both on the gridiron and the diamond.
Under Rivers’ watch, Heritage softball has become one of California’s most consistent powerhouse programs. Even on nights when he’s roaming the sidelines with Devon, members of the softball team pause from enjoying the game to stop and say hi to their coach.
Of course, just being a good coach doesn’t detract from the good-natured ribbing that a father can have with his son. Ron isn’t shy about reminding Devon that yes, he knows what it’s like to play running back and no, he didn’t wear a one-bar face mask when he played.
“It’s easier to push Devon’s buttons because Devon is a perfectionist,” Ron Rivers said. “I keep having to remind him that I didn’t just show up today. I actually played your spot. It’s been fun. It’s been challenging at times because he’s such a competitor. It’s just me trying to get him to navigate the stuff he sees in the right direction.”
The fundamentals of playing running back are definitely fodder for discussion in the Rivers household. Primary among those lessons is the need to protect the quarterback, because while Devon Rivers is listed at 5-foot-6, both Ron and Ronnie know firsthand that blocking in the backfield has less to do with stature and more to do with leverage and technique.
Those lessons have certainly worked for Ronnie. Now established as one of the top running backs in all of college football for a Fresno State team that owns a nationally significant win over UCLA, he earned a spot on several of the game’s most prestigious watch lists including the Maxwell Award, Doak Walker Award and Paul Hornung Award.
While he finishes up a heralded college career and prepares for his own pro career, Ronnie also takes great pride in watching, and in some instances contributing to, his younger brother’s development on the field.
“It’s been great being able to follow Devon’s career. Growing up we were always jumping from my practice to his practice or my games to his games. So seeing him develop as a player and a person has made me a very proud big brother,” Ronnie Rivers said. “As for advice, I would just tell him to keep working hard and to just keep listening to Dad, because he’s been in our shoes and has played at the highest level and he’s able to give you information that will help you succeed now and in college.”
The tutelage from both brother and dad doesn’t fall on deaf ears. Instead, Devon is eager to soak it all in.
“It’s really helpful when you have a dad and a coach who has been there and who has gone to the highest level. Because he sees things maybe I won’t see,” Devon Rivers said. “We watch film and see the holes that I maybe don’t see. He shows me and we correct it. It’s the same thing with (Ronnie). I watch film with him too and he’s now doing the same stuff my dad does.”
Where the Patriots end up in 2021 depends on their continued maturation as a group. Devon Rivers will play a big role, but the development of the entire team will ultimately dictate how far Heritage can go.
In a week four win over James Logan-Union City, Rivers rushed for 184 yards and three touchdowns but Wasso and junior receiver Jeremiah Ruffin also took another big step forward.
The duo connected for three touchdown passes en route to a 41-15 victory over the Colts. A win over De Anza-Richmond the following week moved the Patriots to 3-2 at the conclusion of their nonleague campaign, and next comes the ultimate test, a Bay Valley Athletic League opener against defending champion Pittsburg.
“I feel like it really did take our team all the weeks we needed in the offseason to develop because of how young we are,” Devon Rivers said. “We’re still getting better, we’re still learning new things and we’re just going to go up from here.”