ACA's Brandon Rivers faces obstacles head-on
Thu. November 10, 2011 at 4:37 p.m. | By Alex Scarborough
ACA's Brandon Rivers takes a break from practice Tuesday afternoon. (Photo by Michelle Lepianka Carter )
TUSCALOOSA | His pale blue eyes fail to hold direct contact, darting to the corners for safety. Unsure of himself, he takes long pauses to reflect on the right answer.
How did it feel losing your father? How did you continue to play a game? How do you do what you do?
The questions make him uncomfortable. The attention makes him squirm. He doesn’t back down, though, searching for a way to talk about himself when you can tell he’d much rather tell you how he kicks a football rather than what he thinks about before he does it.
He’s only a teenager, but his resolve goes far beyond that. He’s honest, thoughtful and well-meaning. He wants you to like him and he genuinely wants to like you.
He’s a kid, a football player.
He’s a student and a hard worker.
He’s a quiet leader, showing rather than telling.
Brandon Rivers is a man and he doesn’t even know it.
Not like everyone else
Rivers wanted to show he was taking this interview seriously. The 6-foot-6 senior at American Christian Academy wore a dark blue blazer two sizes too big and khaki pants that were similarly over-sized. His white button-up shirt was in need of a good ironing and his black shoes could have used some polish.
Still, his point got across. He wanted to look nice. He wanted to put his best foot forward.
In a sea of kids with crisp new Polo shirts and unblemished Nikes, Rivers stands out. He may attend a private school, but he’s nothing like the throng of privileged teenagers who pull up to campus in glossy new sports cars and massive SUVs. Rivers drives a beat up Dodge pick-up truck that surpassed the 100,000-mile mark on the odometer long ago. It’s red and silver but he adds some flash to it, calling it, “radiant red and driftwood grey.”
“I drive a Dodge and my friends drive Hummers, Audis, BMWs,” Rivers said.
The reason he isn’t like everyone else goes far beyond football, beyond finances. He’s truly the man of his house. He works two jobs — one at ACA with building maintenance and the other painting for his uncle on the weekends — and most of the money he makes goes over to his mother to help pay bills.
Nearly four years ago, Rivers lost his dad to a heart attack. Mike Rivers, a carpenter by trade, died at 40 years old.
Brandon was left without a dad during his freshman year of high school. He was left without the only sense of direction he’d ever had. Suddenly, it was just him and his mother.
While what happened could have broken many, it only strengthened his resolve. A kicker with aspirations to play at the next level, Rivers understood then that what he did on the field could relate to life.
“It kind of really solidified what I want to do and what I want to pursue,” Rivers said. “Kicking is like life. You’ll have hard obstacles to overcome but if you keep trying and keep being consistent, it will work out.”
John Causey was an assistant coach when Rivers lost his dad. The two formed an immediate kinship through the tragedy. When Causey was a freshman on the football team at the University of Alabama, he watched his father die of congestive heart failure. He was 18 years old at the time, only a few years older than Rivers. To this day, Causey can recall the phone call he got from his family saying he needed to make it to Montgomery fast — his father didn’t have long.
“That was a long two-hour drive by myself at 9 o’clock at night having just been told your dad probably wasn’t going to make it,” Causey said. “My whole family was there when he passed away. It was difficult.”
Causey and Rivers bonded on the football field and off it. During the summer, they’d go on jogs together and Rivers would probe Causey with questions about life. When he was chasing a girl for a date to the dance, he called Causey. When his grades were slipping, he’d ask Causey for advice.
“There are times when Brandon just calls me about life, something I would have gone to my daddy for,” Causey said. “He asks me questions about dating, typical 17- or 18-year-old questions you’d like to ask your dad.”
On June 19, Causey got a card in the mail. It was from Rivers. The cover read “Happy Father’s Day.”
In it, he put his feelings for Causey into words.
“He gave me a card and wrote up half the card in there expressing his thoughts,” Causey said. “He made references that his dad is gone and he looks at me like a dad. ... He just expressed how he felt. I’ll remember that the rest of my life, the things he wrote in there.”
For Rivers, giving Causey the card was only natural.
“Me and Coach Causey are really close, almost like father and son,” Rivers said. “Me and him have been friends since I was a freshman. He took me in as family.”
There is no bigger fan of Brandon Rivers, the person, than his own head coach. Causey said there’s a lot about Rivers that makes him special.
“He’s patient, persistent. ... The world is telling him he’s different and he doesn’t know that,” Causey said. “He may not have the most money or this or that, but he’s all of those things and he’s encouraging me.”
It was only a few weeks ago that Rivers was doing something else for his coach. It was the Saturday after an away game and Causey had mentioned off-hand earlier in the week he needed to change the oil in his car. Watching film in the coach’s office, Causey stepped outside and saw his car lifted up on jacks. Rivers was standing over the engine.
“I walk out on the steps and my car is on jacks. Come to find out he was changing the oil in my car, changing the headlight, too,” Causey said. “I said, ‘What are you doing?’ and he said, ‘Well, you’re oil needed changing.’ He was going to take time out of his day to do it. He wouldn’t even let me pay for the oil.
“He’s that type. He’d give you the shoes off his feet.”
Causey said becoming so close to Rivers wasn’t something he planned, but he wouldn’t trade it for anything. It isn’t a role he takes likely, either.
“I don’t think you can ever be prepared for that,” Causey said. “I think it’s a ton of responsibility but it should be. I don’t take that lightly. ... It’s a ton of responsibility but on the flip-side you experience a lot of the rewards to it as well.”
Rivers helps Causey on the field as well, kicking field goals in excess of 45 yards and helping his team to a 10-1 record heading into the second round of the playoffs. The senior kicker has knocked in 72 points this year alone.
Causey said he thinks there will be a scenario soon where Rivers will have to kick a field goal to win the game with no time left. It’s a pressure situation he hasn’t been in all season but one Causey said he’s ready for. When he looks in Rivers’ eyes, he knows he’s prepared for whatever may come.
Reach Alex Scarborough at email@example.com or 205-722-0193.