Rivera an honorable ambassador at KU
There was a certain tinge of excitement that everybody in Kansas City who watched the San Diego Chargers edge the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL playoffs must have felt on Saturday night.
When Darren Sproles took a toss to the left side, raced away from one tackler, slipped past another and darted into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown in overtime, every football fan in Kansas City had to feel good — at least for a moment – at the sight of the former Olathe North standout stealing the spotlight in prime time.
It’s the same feeling non-Colts fans in Kansas City felt when we watched Shawnee Mission Northwest graduate Ryan Lilja win the Super Bowl in February of 2007 as a starting offensive lineman.
We had another one of those feel-good moments on Dec. 31 when another Northwest graduate helped his football team get the job done in a big game. Mike Rivera closed out his football career at the University of Kansas by helping the Jayhawks trample Minnesota 42-21 in the Insight Bowl.
Rivera tied his career high with 14 tackles in the victory, and he played a part on two crucial plays in the third quarter that helped preserve the lead.
With 8:11 left in the third quarter and Minnesota driving, Rivera hit a ball-carrier and forced a fumble. Teammate Joe Mortensen recovered it. One play later, Kerry Meier connected with Dezmon Briscoe for a touchdown that extended the KU lead to 35-14. Later that quarter Minnesota had a fourth-and-goal on the 1-yard line, but Rivera filled the hole that helped stuff the play and preserve Kansas’ grip on the game.
Kansas finished the season with an 8-5 record.
For his career, Rivera is 33-17 as a Jayhawk with no losing seasons, three bowl victories — including the Orange Bowl last year — and 20 victories in the past two years. He also is a multi-time All-Big 12 honoree for his on-field performance. In more than 100 years of Kansas football, few Jayhawks can boast of such accomplishments.
Rivera’s successes extend beyond the football field, however. He also spent his time at KU as an ambassador to the community. As a sophomore he was an Academic All-Big 12 second team selection, and he became the inaugural winner of the team’s Galen Fiss award for campus and community service. As a junior he was an Academic All-Big 12 first team choice and was the recipient of the KU Community Service Award.
Not all of the postseason honors have been announced yet this season, but Rivera capped his senior season with yet another Academic All-Big 12 first team honor. Additional accolades are likely to follow in the coming weeks.
More than a great individual player, Rivera leaves KU known simply as a winner. In the same breath that we celebrated the successes of Sproles and Lilja, we should be equally proud of the way Rivera has represented the Jayhawks, Shawnee Mission Northwest and the community as a whole during his time at KU.